Teacher of the Month--
Richard Herrera, who teaches undergraduate Political Science courses at the university, is regarded as an instructor who stretches his creative talents to inspire his students to learn. "He has resisted the urge to do the ordinary," said former teaching assistant Mike Yawn. "Dr. Herrera is one of the few professors who is able to teach the entire class," he added, "He manages to present the material in a simple but provocative manner that challenges the best students, yet allows the struggling students to grasp the subject."
I believe students learn best when they are challenged and when the material presented to them is made relevant to their lives. It is with this as a background that I can best explain why I employ certain teaching techniques and attempt to stimulate students' interest in politics and political science. Of the several courses I teach for the Political Science department, three are primary: POS 110, Government and Politics; POS 301, Empirical Political Inquiry; and POS 332, American Political Parties. The first two courses are required of all political science majors while the third is an upper division course for those interested in American politics.
My teaching techniques vary from class to class but there are three approaches that are common to any class I teach. First, students are encouraged and rewarded for engaging in class discussions. They are encouraged by my constant calling of names for responses to questions, opinions, and perspectives. Through this process, I not only keep students "on their toes" for the duration of the class period, but I also learn almost all of their names by mid-term. I have found that being able to call on students in class without looking at a roll sheet communicates to students that I know them and builds both a sense of rapport and accountability. Students know that I will notice their absence and will recognize them and talk with them if I see them somewhere other than the classroom. This awareness of my interest results, I believe, in their coming to class better prepared than in if they expected to be lectured to for fifty minutes.
The second common technique I employ is to require semester assignments that require the students to "do something." I believe in challenging students to learn something about politics and political science by actually engaging in an activity that exposes them to the material they read about in textbooks. Let me provide some examples.
In my POS 110, Government and Politics class, I cover the standard material on American government institutions and politics. I also cover some of the debates in American politics on the structure of our government that began at the dawn of the Republic. Students are required to read excerpts from debates between Federalists, who advocated the adoption of the Constitution, and the Anti-Federalists, who opposed ratification. These debates include the role of the federal government, states' rights, term limits, and executive power--the same types of debates we encounter in present-day political discourse. To facilitate their understanding of the debates, I have required them to work in groups to mount an ad campaign advocating either the Federalist or AntiFederalist position. Students work in groups of about twelve and produce, print, radio, and television ads that are presented to the entire class in the last two weeks of the semester. (Some examples of the finished products are attached.) Groups were urged to be creative in presenting their positions in 1990s fashion. Some groups created ad campaigns that were bilingual to target the populations in the Southwest. Others created fliers that were mailed to their fellow students prior to being presented in class. In all cases, the students exceeded my expectations and finished their productions with a much deeper understanding of some of the fundamental debates still ongoing in American politics.
In my POS 301 class, I teach students the nuts and bolts of social science research. This course is required of all political science majors for graduation. It is also one of the most dreaded courses as most students are not t:amiliar with social science research methods and do not know what to expect. The class is designed to acquaint students with theory construction, hypothesis testing, research design, and data collection. Since the bulk of the class covers data collection, I require students to carry out three types of data collection techniques: surveys, field research, and unobtrusive data collection. (Descriptions of the assignments are attached.) Students help design a questionnaire and then draw probability samples of ASU students and conduct telephone interviews. They then write a five to ten page report on their research design and their results. The students learn not only the academic side of survey research but how difficult the process can actually be. In the field research exercise, students assume a participant observer role and make observations of events and situations keeping detailed field notes that are then translated into a formal report. Students learn that keen observation is a skill attained with much practice and acquire an appreciation of the technique. In the unobtrusive observation exercise, students learn how to use archival material to address current research questions, and how to conduct content analysis of various forms of communication. These techniques emphasize the use of cutting-edge technologies as students are introduced to the use of the Internet for access to unlimited amounts of information. At the conclusion of each of these exercises, class time is used to have students discuss their data collection expeditions. In every case, students are surprised at how much they have learned about the data collection process and how those skills are readily transferable to the "real-world."
I teach American political parties a bit differently from most instructors. My approach is to do more than introduce students to the academic study of political parties. I require students to simulate national party conventions to give them a taste of what politics is all about. Students learn about the give-and-take of politics as well as the work required to mount campaigns, research issues, give oral presentations, argue effectively for certain party positions, and write clearly and persuasively. I have included a copy of the final report of the POS 332 class I taught in the Spring of 1996 that details how the class was designed and how that design worked. I can only add that I cannot imagine teaching that class any other way. Students not only learned much about politics and political parties, but they learned the value of team work, formed lasting friendships, and that active participation in the democratic process is rewarding and understandable. In short, they acquire a fuller understanding of the requirements of democratic citizenship and find that they are quite capable of taking their place in American politics.
I plan to continue challenging students and introducing politics to them in ways that promote an active interest in democratic citizenship. I am particularly interested in utilizing emerging technological tools such as the Internet to further stimulate students' curiosity about politic. Finally, I will continue to call on students' in class because I find great value in knowing the students I teach by name and in engaging them in the education process.
To sum up my philosophy on teaching, I think students are up to most challenges we as prot'essors can provide. We theret'ore have a responsibility to challenge our students to be active participants in the education process. We can do that by making our courses relevant to students' lives and by challenging them to learn.
"The Structure of Opinion in American Political Parties," Political Studies 42
"Are 'Superdelegates' Super?," Political Behavior 16 (March 1994): 79-92.
"Cohesion at the Party Conventions, 1980-1988," Polity 26 (Fall 1993): 75-89.
"Public Opinion and Congressional Representation," Public Opinion Quarterly 56
National Science Foundation, 1993. "A Study of the 1992 Presidential Campaign Elite" (with Warren E. Miller) Amount of award: $90,000.
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Summer Research Award, 1990. "Party Cohesion at the Conventions, 1980-1988" Amount of award: $1,000.
Nominated for Alumni Achievement Award for Outstanding Teaching, 1993.
Nominated for Dean's Distinguished Teaching Award, 1993-94; 1994-95.
Wakonse Fellow, 1994-present.
American Political Science Association Minority Identification Program participant,
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October 18, 2001
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