1. Assessment of the Political Science Major
a. Who is the person responsible for program assessment, data gathering and analysis in your discipline?
The Political Science Discipline coordinator for 2004-05 was Paula O'Loughlin. In 2005-06, it will be Seung-Ho Joo.
b. What are the stated goals of your discipline?
The stated objective of the major is to help students develop and use strong analytical skills and critical thinking in their analysis of theories, institutions and processes in politics and government.
Upon completion of the major, students are expected to have the ability to critically analyze, interpret and synthesize the theories that are prevalent in a major subfield of political science, should be more empowered to participate in government due to increased familiarity with politics and government and are adequately prepared for graduate or professional school.
c. How do you assess whether your discipline is achieving its goals?
In terms of the first goal, "the ability to critically analyze, interpret and synthesize the major theories that are prevalent in a major subfield of political science," we are assessing this two ways. The first way is through the successful completion of several upper level courses within one of our three major subfields within political science. The second is through successful completion of our senior capstone seminar (See below).
The methods, measures and instruments for this outcome are the evaluation procedures for each course and successful completion of our capstone seminar. Implementation of this first indicator of this first outcome is already in progress. Implementation of the second indicator of this first outcome has been on-going as a pilot for two years. It begins full-scale in fall 2006.
In terms of our second goal, students "should be more empowered to participate in government due to increased familiarity with politics and government," we expect students will believe they are competent to participate in government and politics, whether by voting, discussing policy with others or even working in government or a campaign.
We currently assess this through the number of students who report involvement in political activity and/or governmental internships. For the first, we rely on the aggregate data in the career center and NSSE surveys. For the second, we keep a record of the number of political science majors doing politically related internships and/or summer activities. The discipline internship coordinator is in charge of this and already does this.
In addition to the above, we are in the process of developing a student attitude survey which measures confidence to participate in political discussion and participate in political activity. These surveys would be administered to students in the introductory level courses and then again during the senior seminar. This is still in progress but should be in place by fall 2005.
In terms of adequate preparation for graduate or professional schools, we look at scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the Law School Admission Tests (LSAT). Our students should do well enough on these standardized tests to gain admission into graduate programs. Our students who have gone onto Ph.D programs in political science have scored above the 95th percentile on the GREs. Our aggregate student mean and median LSAT scores have been in the 150s which ranks them at the top 5 of the students who take the LSAT nationwide. Every year since 1996, one or more of our students LSAT scores have been in the high 160s putting them above the 95th percentile re LSAT success.
We also look at the success rate of our students who apply for such programs. Political Science students have gone onto graduate study in Law, English, Political Science, Statistics, Geography, International Relations, Journalism, Public Affairs, Public Administration and Education. Many of our students have been admitted to some of the top public affairs programs (the Humphrey Institute), law schools (University of Minnesota and Michigan) and Ph.D programs in political science (University of Minnesota, Indiana, University of Washington, Washington University and Northwestern). Most of the students who have gone onto graduate study get fellowship support which indicates they are considered top candidates.
The methods, measures, and instruments for this outcome are primarily student self-reporting to advisors of their future school plans and test scores. We also look at Career Center data and the Office of Institutional Research data. These measures are already in progress.
d. Has your discipline modified its curriculum and/or teaching as a result of your assessment results, and if so, how?
See discussion of our senior seminar capstone below.
2. Political Science Discipline Capstone Course Assessment (Preliminary Spring 2005)
Beginning with the 2003-2005 catalog, the Political Science discipline began transitioning to a capstone senior seminar requirement for all majors. Beginning in fall 2006, students who wish to graduate with a Political Science Major will be required to take and pass any one of three different subfield based seminars: POL 4901 (Senior Research Seminar in American Government), POL 4902 (Senior Research Seminar in International Relations and Comparative Politics)* or POL 4903 (Senior Research Seminar in Political Theory) in the fall of their senior years. Each course is worth 4 credits and can only be taken A-F. The 6 Political Science faculty alternate in the teaching of these courses and the supervision of these projects in their specialities such that every other year 3 of the discipline's 6 faculty teach these courses in place of one of their regularly scheduled offerings.
Each course requires students to engage in independent guided research in their specific subfield. Over the course of fall term and with supervision of a faculty member, each student formulates testable research questions, develops a research design to address those questions, does a literature review, gathers and analyzes data and writes up their findings into a conference quality paper. In the spring, students give oral defenses of their projects to the discipline faculty and other graduating seniors. In their talk, students are expected to give a detailed explanation of the nature of their question, a detailed discussion of other relevant work, present their own methods and findings and then conclude with future research questions.
To get the proverbial bugs out of the system before we started requiring it fully, these three courses have been offered as possible upper level electives for the last two years. A total of 6 students took these as electives during fall 2003 and a total of 7 took these electives in 2004-05. As with any course, students were assessed by the faculty who taught the class, but informal feedback was provided by the other faculty after the presentations.
After two years of presentations (albeit limited), we have identified some areas where our students appear to be doing well and others where we need to help them improve. For the most part, students' understanding of what it means to do a significant independent research project seems clear. Students' also seem quite able to defend their ideas when pressed. However, in terms of the quality of the written and oral presentations, the students who had done any kind of independent paper at a political science conference, the URS or on another major were clearly a step ahead of their peers. In terms of areas of improvement, it is clear that we need to give our students more experience giving actual oral presentations as the quality of the talks varies greatly. We also have agreed that we as faculty need to have a shared set of guidelines across subfields as to what constitutes acceptable source material and work to incorporate more independent research into upper level courses before senior seminar so students have an idea at least of what it means to do a literature review, etc.
Next year's discipline coordinator, Seung-Ho Joo, will be working to implement these suggestions before our seminars start wholesale in fall 2006.
*Within Political Science as a discipline as a whole in the United States, Comparative Politics and International Relations are separate subfields. However, because of our small faculty, we have merged the two subfields into one at UMM in our regular course offerings. We do the same with our senior seminar option.
Submitted by Paula L. O'Loughlin, June 21, 2005