GOV 310L is an introductory course on American Government and just about every UT student will take or has already taken it. So why write about it? Isn’t it just another required course that you’d be better off taking at ACC or online at Midland College? Well our staff has proven once again that every course at the University of Texas has value. Through UT’s synchronous massive online course (SMOC), students now have the option to participate in an online version of GOV 310L that still requires the same regular attendance and assessment as a traditional lecture.
I sat down with Professor Eric McDaniel to discuss his experience teaching with the Texas Online World of Educational Research (TOWER). Professor McDaniel has taught GOV 310L roughly fifteen times here at UT and admits that the class had started to become a bit stale. With classes of around four hundred students, it’s difficult to keep students engaged and to maintain an investment in them on a personal level. Professor McDaniel claims that using TOWER has revitalized the way he teaches this course.
Professor McDaniel’s goal in teaching this large required course is to help students understand the inner workings and basic rules of how our government works. He wants his students to leave his class understanding that a government is just like any other organization so that, when something goes wrong or the public is dissatisfied, they can understand why. Having TOWER at his disposal has furthered this goal by allowing him to provide more information per lecture, while also making his class more engaging. The class is streamed live, so students are still free to ask questions during lectures, but with his TA’s standing by to answer the majority of questions via chats, Professor McDaniel is free to cover more information and go into greater depth in a single lecture. He describes this as one of the greatest benefits of teaching online. Although he regrets losing the opportunity for face-to-face contact with his students, being able to delve deeper into topics that he is passionate about, rather than being forced to rush through them, has allowed him to share that passion more effectively with his students.
Using an online format has also made the class more engaging, particularly for non-government majors. Not only is it far easier to integrate media into the course, but also to provide up to date references to relevant current events. This gives students far more tangible evidence as to why what they are learning matters. Professor McDaniel said that another great benefit has been the opportunity to team-teach with Professor Daron Shaw. By splitting each lecture up beforehand, Professors McDaniel and Shaw are each able to focus in on the areas that they are more concerned with and more equipped to cover. For example, if they are lecturing on public opinion, Professor Shaw might provide methodological information on how public opinion is measured, while Professor McDaniel speaks more theoretically on where public opinion comes from, making for a more informative and engaging lecture overall.
Professor McDaniel says that his experience in teaching with TOWER has changed the way he approaches both GOV 310L and his other classes. And while he admits that teaching with SMOC is not as well suited to upper division courses that require more in depth and specialized discussion, there are many aspects of how the course is taught that he plans to apply to his other courses. For example, he not only has more experience with the use of media in teaching, but also more media resources available from what he has used in his GOV 310L class. Through teaching this class, Professor McDaniel has also seen the value of keeping students accountable for what they are being taught by using weekly assessments and quizzes. He is also striving to be completely transparent and provide students with as much feedback as possible, seeing that it helps students to understand why they have the grades they have.
SMOC courses present a unique opportunity for both students and professors. And while Professor McDaniel admits that taking a course that uses TOWER requires a certain level of maturity and responsibility, he believes that the majority of students here at the University of Texas are up to the task. In his own words, teaching with TOWER is helping to “bring sexy back” to political science by making the course both more engaging and more rewarding for students and faculty alike.