Many students want dualistic right-or-wrong answers, or think that politics is a matter of opinion and belief. I teach them to perform rigorous research by clarifying theories, making evidence-based arguments, and taking uncertainty seriously.
In my Introductory Statistics course, I teach students about uncertainty by using examples that range from merely suggestive to almost certain. Students list their height or age, and then choose samples of different sizes to show how different empirical outcomes can result from the same process. Comparing the samples to the same critical value in a t-test, based on national height data, reveals that some samples meet the value for a difference while others do not. We then discuss how samples lead to different conclusions about the class’s mean height, even though all are from the same group. With these exercises, students learn firsthand to appreciate uncertainty in empirical evidence.
To be useful, theories about political behavior must produce clear predictions. In my International Relations and Political Economy of Development courses, I use classroom activities to help students understand incentives. I split students into groups as stakeholders for an environmental treaty or political selectors in a national government. Playing dictators gives better insight into their motives. A student might, for instance, think that dictators are selfish and cruel by nature. After the activity, she understands what is required to stay in power and that behavior results from institutional constraints. She can then make specific hypotheses such as that dictators favor their own ethnic group or that they have larger militaries.
Students demonstrate these abilities in final projects and papers for my courses. I offer students a variety of topics, such as environmental treaties, same-sex marriage support, and gun legislation. Students must demonstrate the ability to state a clear theory, derive hypotheses, construct verifiable predictions, and examine actual data. They must consider uncertainty in the results using confidence intervals and standard errors, and properly characterize the level of support the data gives to the theory. The end result is that students understand how to construct logical arguments and present them in a paper.
To be proficient in political science, students must understand how evidence reveals political behavior. I teach them to create precise theories and build strong empirical arguments in their studies. After my courses, students are better able to understand existing research and to use statistical evidence in future writing.
Instructor of Record
University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
Introduction to Biostatistics (MA), Fall 2015
University of Massachusetts – Lowell
Research Methods in Political Science (Undergraduate), Spring 2014
Political Economy of Developing Countries, Fall 2012
New York University
Quantitative Methods in Political Science, Spring 2012
Games, Strategy, and Politics, Fall 2011
Quantitative Methods in Political Science, Fall 2011