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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The effect of effectiveness

    At the end of every semester during teacher evaluation surveys, I snap out of my aimless bubbling trance when I get to the part that asks me to rate the effectiveness of my instructor. Granted, “”effective”” can mean a myriad things, but in this case, it usually boils down to once qualifying factor: students’ contributions. Were you encouraged to take part in discussions on international relations? Were you asked to hypothesize solutions in circuit engineering?

    Valuing students’ contributions by allowing them to personally participate in their educations, a concept known as “”active learning,”” is at the forefront of many educational systems, not excluding that of the UA.

    That participation is not limited to the classroom, but includes professional arenas, politics and educational discussions. In the same vein, many university students have begun to use their college educations as springboards into national affairs usually limited to the Washington elite.

    In November 2004, students from Stanford, Yale, Bates and Middlebury founded the Roosevelt Institution, a national network of student think tanks designed to get student ideas out into the spectrum of public discourse. Part of its mission statement reads like a definition of active learning: “”Our education is not only about absorbing facts but also identifying problems and developing solutions.””

    Through RI, students are given the chance to contribute their ideas on issues such as the future of social security and the job market. They research domestic and international concerns, articulate policies and then disseminate their work. The national coalition assembles a digest of policy papers from each of the local chapters, called the Roosevelt Review. Within each chapter there are policy centers, groups of students who have researched a particular issue in hopes of formulating policy papers.

    Every chapter operates under the three RI models. One is group-driven, in which students of similar interests but diverse backgrounds research topics and have discussion forums to try to fill in perceived policy discourse gaps. The second is a research model, according to which students turn to outside experts for advice on policy papers. The third employs students who have had significant coursework or expertise in their chosen area of study.

    RI’s goal is to allow students to prepare their views for serious presentation as policy.

    At Stanford, one student’s senior thesis on AIDS policy for married women in rural South Africa was published in the Roosevelt Review. After that, her work was read by Congressional offices in Washington, D.C.

    Consider the feeling of accomplishment a student would experience from his work not just sitting on some teaching assistant’s desk, but being used as research or support that could influence the political process. And that’s more realistic than it might sound; RI students are taken seriously. Guest lecturers speak with students as progressive partners, not instructors. Their thoughts are seen not just as part of classroom assignments, but as real analyses that have the potential to bring about positive change.

    By creating standing relationships with politicians and policymakers, media outlets and other think tanks, students are taking advantage of the “”active learning”” theory by maximizing their involvement. A quick search of RI’s Web site is enough to leave one in awe of students’ analyses of issues like funding for higher education, the estate tax and reforming the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Its success can be measured by its rapid growth – the institution has already spread to nearly 100 colleges and universities.

    By following RI’s example and paying heed to the basic principle of “”active learning,”” America’s 15 million college students can use their classes, theses, research projects, extracurricular activities and university environment to invest intellectually in the future of a profitable society. Doing so will provide the foundation for a new generation of progressive politics.


    Yusra Tekbali is a junior majoring in journalism and Near Eastern studies. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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