St. Petersburg College’s Center of Excellence for Teaching and Learning (CETL) caught up with Adjunct Instructor Kenneth Strickland to learn about teaching American Government.
Strickland was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. He earned dual bachelor’s degrees in political science and sociology from Texas Tech University in 2002 and a master’s degree in political science from The Ohio State University in 2004. He is working towards a doctorate in higher education at the University of South Florida.
As a full-time worker in the market research industry, Strickland manages large scale consumer research studies for a variety of clients. He has extensive training in statistical analysis procedures and serves as his firm’s Manager of Analytic Consulting. At SPC, he teaches American National Government online.
In addition to teaching at SPC, Strickland has taught at Ohio State, Columbus State Community College, Hillsborough Community College and Columbia Southern University.
CETL: How did you get started in Political Science?
Strickland: I was always interested, from a very young age, in how people developed the opinions they held on a variety of political and social issues. In fact, I was more interested in opinion on these issues than the actual issues themselves. I decided to major in political science in college, where a faculty advisor encouraged me to apply to attend an undergraduate political science research conference held annually at Rice University. My abstract was accepted and I presented my research at the conference, finding the entire process very exciting. This experience convinced me to pass up law school and instead apply to graduate programs in Political Science. I was accepted into and attended The Ohio State University, which was one of the top programs in the country with a specialization in political psychology – the study how we formulate political beliefs.
CETL: What prepared you for your faculty role?
Strickland: Being in one of the strongest-rated American Politics graduate programs in the country provided me with tremendous exposure to some of the most cutting edge ideas and research initiatives in the field. Undergraduate students are typically taught political science from a perspective that only requires that they be able to recall institutional facts and provide basic analysis related to those facts. My own academic preparation in the subject has allowed me to take my students well past this point and enables me to transform them into political scientists – observing, analyzing and decoding political behavior from an objective, research-oriented perspective.
CETL: What new developments are happening in your field?
Strickland: As with many fields, political science is increasingly addressing the issue of globalization and technology advancement – particularly with regard to the dissemination of information quickly and efficiently, although not always accurately, through electronic means. Many of the seminal theories in political science are based on specific assumptions regarding how citizens collect and cognitively process information. We’re working to revise those models in response to the new media environment and determine what implications these changes have on key political institutions moving forward.
CETL: What are your biggest challenges in preparing students for the field of Political Science?
Strickland: As is the case for many Americans, the increasingly negative tone of political messaging in the modern era has increased baseline political disinterest for many of my students. My biggest challenge as an educator in the field is to convince my students that they don’t have to be interested in politics to become interested in political science. True political science reaches well beyond simple issue positions and public discourse and encapsulates a much broader set of assumptions and questions about general human social behavior. If I do my job correctly, my students leave my course with the understanding that political science isn’t simply about politics but is instead a field comprised of a wide array of ideas and approaches that have great applicability to many facets of our day-to-day lives.
CETL: What do your students seem to appreciate or enjoy about your class?
Strickland: My goal each semester is to make my online courses look and feel as much as possible like a traditional face-to-face course, which my students regularly indicate that they would prefer to take if their schedule/home-life permitted it. I accomplish this by personalizing the faculty/student relationship with videos I regularly post to ANGEL, including a weekly “what’s going on?” video at the start of each week and separate videos for each set of lecture slides, as well as for major assignments. My SSI feedback indicates that students appreciate and enjoy the fact that I go the extra mile to create a more engaging student experience and that they recognize the fact that I truly care about their success – even if I never meet them in person.
CETL: What teaching strategy do you find effective?
Strickland: Political Science is a research-based field, though there is little to no mention of this in most of our textbooks. The teaching strategy I find most effective is to expose my students to the research side of the field in a way that is easily digestible, yet substantive. I do this by seeking out a wide array of articles, interviews and online videos that demonstrate to my students how we go about asking and answering questions in our field. My students also complete a two-part survey research experiment, where we conduct a political survey with our friends, develop hypotheses regarding the results and then analyze the data upon completion. At the end of my course, each of my students has completed a very simple yet comprehensive political science research paper that serves as a primer for larger, more complex academic inquiry.
CETL: What are you most excited about regarding your faculty role?
Strickland: I have full-time job in the corporate world outside of education that provides me with a very good quality of living but fails to meet my need to give back and work towards advancing the goals of others. The thing I’m most excited about regarding my faculty role is to have the opportunity to work with students of all ages to help them uncover their hidden potential and to see them grow over the short period of time I have with them. I’ve never treated my faculty position with SPC as a job – I already have one of those. Instead, I see it as a passion that allows me to meet interesting people and have a small part in helping them better themselves and see the world in a different way. No amount of money can match the satisfaction that brings me.
CETL: What can students do to prepare for a career in your field?
Strickland: As with most professions in the new economy, the key to success is networking, networking, networking. I tell my students that they can accomplish far more in front of a person than they can from their computer. Students preparing for a career in politics should do so by attending as many meetings and events as possible and volunteering their time and resources when able, so that their abilities and hard work become apparent to the political leaders they come to know.
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