Work in progress

The course that I am teaching this summer session -- "Introduction to International Relations Research" -- has a special place in my teaching repertoire. It was the first course I got to design and execute by myself as a professional academic. Oh, I'd taught courses before that, but in the minor leagues, so to speak: I was in the farm system for both New York University and Columbia University, playing AAA ball as an adjunct instructor (at NYU) and a preceptor (at Columbia). In both cases I was supervised, to some extent, and partly constrained as to what I could teach by the need to gain the approval of some other faculty-member.

When I first came down here, I negotiated the opportunity to teach summer classes; otherwise I wouldn't have been paid until September, which would have made paying my mortgage somewhat difficult. They gave me two courses: "World Politics," for which I was mandated to use a textbook about which I had some serious reservations (and about which I still have serious reservations, but because I have tenure now I am simply not going to use it in the future -- what are they going to do, fire me? Well, they can't, because of a little thing called "academic freedom"), and "Introduction to International Relations Research." Since then I've taught this course more than any other; this is my eleventh time doing so.

My first real major-league game, so to speak: there were existing syllabi for the course, but I basically ripped them all up and went in a different direction. I remember sketching the initial course outline on a napkin one day at lunch with a fellow minor-leaguer at Columbia; we'd both just gotten called up to the majors for the fall, and both were faced with the prospect of teaching courses that we'd never taught. So I quickly drew a diagram contrasting different styles of social science research, and that was the foundation of the syllabus that I produced a few weeks later. The point of the course, then as now, was that there are a number of different approaches to producing valid empirical research in the social sciences; I wanted a course that would introduce students to several of them, and drive home the point about methodological diversity. Not a bad debut in the majors, I thought.

206 is an odd course for me because -- to continue with the somewhat strained baseball metaphor that I like to use when thinking about these things -- as a player-manager [academia is like old-fashioned baseball in that players can manage, something that you never see any more except in odd circumstances such as the day when Joe Torre handed Roger Clemens the line-up card and let him manage the Yankees game during what was supposed to be his last professional season a couple of years ago] I pencilled myself into the line-up as both a pitcher and a hitter. Pitcher: I would lecture sometimes, both because there was no single source that could cover all of these methodologies adequately and because I wanted to communicate a series of points myself. Hitter: we'd also have workshops in which my role was to critique, to question, to raise possible objections and thus to help people improve their projects by giving them something to react to. And sometimes we might even have full-blown discussions. Most of my courses, then as now, had purer hitting roles for me, so this was something of a change. It remains so, because I still don't do a lot of pitching in the classroom if I can help it.

I've taught the course eleven times, but it's never been quite the same course. This year is the biggest change in a while, both because I've completely gone to assigning articles (no books at all -- no books to purchase) and because I've moved some material around so that what used to be a three-part division between statistical, interpretive, and relational research is now a four-part division along two philosophical axes (monism vs. dualism, and descriptive vs. causal). It means that I have to remake a lot of slide presentations, but I think that the new arrangement works well. I doubt it will be the last arrangement, but for the moment it's the best one I can think of and the one that seems to make the most sense. But check with me in a decade and I'll bet that I'm still tinkering with it -- that's the nature of the game, after all.

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