A Conversation with Political Science
Professor Daniel Deudney
Professor Daniel Deudney
PHOTO: WILL KIRK
The students who take Global Security Politics, Republicanism, or International Politics from associate professor of political science Daniel Deudney rave about his engaging teaching style and his willingness to spend time after class explaining course material.
“He has so much energy and poise in his speech that there were times in class that I seriously wondered why he isn’t actually a delegate in the United Nations,” noted one student. “He just has a powerful presence. The second he entered the room, eyes were glued to him, and he had our minds in the palm of his hand.”
In May, Deudney was selected from among 33 nominees to receive the Alumni Association’s Excellence in Teaching Award, an honor he shared with co-recipient Stephen Dixon of the Writing Seminars.
Consulting editor Sue De Pasquale sat down recently with Deudney to explore the factors that inspire him to great teaching.
Students have singled you out for your “highly lucid and exceptionally informative lectures.” What’s your secret? How do you keep a lecture hall filled with hundreds of students engaged?
There is no “secret.” It is important to be extremely well organized and to employ an outline so students know where I am in a lecture.
Also, I’m very kinetic. I move around a lot and I use the blackboard. If I write something, then students write something. Out of a sea of words, they are able to get a clear sense of what it is I am trying to emphasize.
I will typically fill nine blackboards in the course of a 50-mintue class. There are always lots of figures and diagrams—“a picture’s worth 10,000 words.” This is certainly much more demanding in terms of my energy level to do it this way, rather than use PowerPoint, but I find such technologies for the classroom to be basically inferior to the blackboard.
The other problem with PowerPoint is that it’s typically dark and there’s this tendency for people to doze off.
With the larger classes where there’s no opportunity for students to provide input, I find it very stimulating to get their questions after class. Typically, at the end of a two-hour class, I’ll stay around for at least 45 minutes afterward.
Can you point to any experiences in your past that helped you become such a dynamic presence in the classroom?
Stylistically my greatest influence was from debate. I was a successful high school debater and developed the skills of public speaking from that experience.
How does your teaching strategy differ when teaching a small graduate seminar as compared to a large undergraduate survey course?
Actually, the graduate seminars I teach have 25 to 30 students in them, so they are not small. I use a modified lecture format with a structured narrative, but there are pauses where I pose questions and discussion ensues. Sometimes I try to work out arguments from my research in this classroom setting. Having them subject to criticism makes them more robust.
I have also been using an experimental format, with 40 students divided into four working groups. The members of each group make presentations on readings, conduct a structured debate, and produce and present a policy proposal with ten 10-page background papers. This format enables students to develop oral presentation skills and work in groups, both of which are very important in the real world but tend to be under-emphasized in the current curriculum.
How important is what you teach to keeping students interested?
Very! The topics I cover in my Global Security Politics course—terrorism, nuclear proliferation, space weapons, biological warfare, information technology—have a way of almost teaching themselves because the issues are so contemporary and so relevant to students today.
The key to effective teaching is the subject matter—and demonstrating an excitement about the subject matter. How enthusiastic the professor is has a great deal to do with students’ engagement and inspiration.
How much do changing world events affect what you teach?
I’ve been teaching International Politics and Republicanism for over 10 years. The classic material remains the same—theorists such as Thucydides, Machiavelli, Kant, and the American founders.
But, we are living in rapidly changing times. 9/11 marked an important watershed in international relations. Between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers, there was a lack of focus in international studies. There were many different issues vying for attention and primacy. 9/11 was like a lightning bolt at night: We see an ominous new landscape. The most salient threat today is the weapons of mass destruction in the hands of non-state actors. Not only are our major cities in jeopardy, but limited government and political freedom are, too.
This poses a governance problem that is historically unprecedented. My research and teaching strategy is to grapple with the future with the best tools from the past.