Faculty Experiences - Hans Noel

Hans Noel - photoHANS NOEL

Political Science

Interview Topics

What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?

How could the University better facilitate the use of technology in instruction?


Relate theory to practice

Learn by doing

Focus on the learning process

Student participation


Online survey

Class web site

Discussion board


Combining On-line and Class Participation to Understand the Political Process

I want students to understand politics as it really works, not just how they think it is supposed to work.

What matters most to you in your teaching?

I want students to understand politics as it really works, not just how they think it is supposed to work. There are so many things that are left unsaid by our institutions, and politics is really about how people respond to them. So they need to think past the bare outline in the constitution to the practices of real people in politics. In particular, I want students to understand how ideologies and parties shape the choices that are made. A lot of students get frustrated when there is no candidate or party that perfectly represents them, but when they see parties in the context of the political process, they should understand that the system needs parties to work. They can see that voting for a party is not about expressing their opinion, but about helping make choices in those institutions.

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

The center of the course was an exercise in which students build party coalitions by communicating with each other outside class using the discussion board and e-mail. At the same time, they also vote for the parties that they form using the survey tool in the course web site. To simplify things, the parties do not have any political ideological content. We use neutral symbols such as colors and shapes to represent parties that students vote for and with which the form coalitions. That way, the students own ideologies don’t confuse things. For instance, a student may be assigned “blue” preferences. Depending on the voting rules that I set, he might realize that although he is “blue,” he has to support the “green” party because that is the only the way he is going to win the election. In doing so, he is sacrificing his “blue” identity, but he may get the end result that he wants. Each student will have to go through this thought process to understand the mechanism that generates parties and the ideologies that they carry. As a result, students can compare this process with what is happening in the real world and have a better understanding as to why the two major parties – the Republican and the Democractic parties – include values and ideologies with which they cannot identify with. They will also learn why sometimes politicians and political parties choose to compromise their values in order to form a larger and stronger coalition. It is all about trade-offs. And of course, some of those tradeoffs are worth it, and others are not. But seeing why others make the tradeoffs makes it easier to understand our democracy.

Students voted through the survey tool in the course web site . The course web site is wonderful because it allows students to vote anonymously any time and any where they can access the Internet. The vote count is done quickly and efficiently by computer. When we did this manually on the first day of class, the vote collection and count took a lot longer and we wasted time on tedious mechanical details. And students can use email and the discussion board to communicate with each other to form their coalitions outside class. In the beginning of the coalition-building process, students would post messages in the discussion board, but later in the class, the discussion board became empty because students now prefer to strategize with people of similar “identity” and “interest” privately through e-mail. One student went further and created a list-serve for his group.

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

The students really like this exercise. They really get into it. When they are strategizing and organizing, they e-mail each other up until just before the voting takes place. Every time I come to class, everybody is at the edge of their seats. They can’t wait to find out who has won in the voting from the previous night. If there is an unexpected outcome, they get really upset and wonder how it all happens. At one point of the exercise, things got really exciting. I set up a situation that is similar to a primary, with things stacking the favor of purple or orange. And the students realized that the way to get “green” to win is to make sure that the “green” party wins both primaries. Students did elaborate coordination; using e-mail to organize. A set of self-selected leaders e-mailed people to organize the vote by telling them when and how to vote.

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?

I don’t think about it in terms of “Let’s use technology to achieve my teaching goals.” Rather I just use whatever means make sense to teach, and sometimes technology is an appropriate tool for what I want to do. The voting and the coalition-building exercises could be done without using Internet technology, but it would devour too much class time. Computers and the Internet make it possible to do this exercise outside of class. This makes it a lot more convenient and efficient because at one time or another during the day people “meet” in cyberspace when they check their emails or login to the course web site. Also, the speed and the efficiency of voting and voting outcomes allows me as an instructor to routinely vary the rules of vote counts and conditions of voting to lead students to strategize differently so they can see the different combinations of coalitions that they can make to win the vote. What’s great about this class is that it combines both in-class and online participation.

E-mail Interview, June 2005