Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2014

Faculty Award winner

Thomas M. Dolan

 College of Sciences

 Political Science

Effective teaching starts, but does not end, in the classroom because student success does not end in the classroom. In addition to clearly communicating contemporary scholarship about international relations to my students, I try to engage them in the logic of discovery, improve their writing and analytical skills, and ensure that they make the curricular choices necessary for transforming their studies into a career.

In the classroom I often use engaging activities that provide my students with opportunities to use scientific reasoning to understand real-world problems. Some examples include a week-long simulation of the Afghanistan conflict, bargaining games using candy and small change to teach students about diplomacy, and 2-to-4 player tug-of-war to help students understand how different configurations of states might align with or against each other. All of these activities are tied to assignments in which students describe their role in the game, reflect on strategies, or report on hypotheses tested.

My undergraduate writing assignments are designed to advance three goals: deepening student engagement with course texts and library resources, improving students' ability to generate readable prose, and improving their ability to generate social scientific argument or analysis. I typically give two kinds of writing assignments: six or seven 1-page papers focused around specific debates, cases, or activities, and a 9-10 page term paper. The 1-page papers give student regular practice and more frequent feedback, and are the cornerstone of my efforts to improve writing. The term paper has evolved into a research report in which students practice the social science process. This stronger emphasis on teaching the logic of science developed, in part, from attendance at a FCTL winter conference. This same process is taught and developed, in much greater detail, when I work with students on independent research projects and HIM theses.

During my first semester at UCF I encountered many international relations students who wanted careers in the field. Unfortunately, many of these students were unaware of the kinds of careers available and were not pursuing opportunities like independent research, internships, and study abroad that would make them more competitive applicants for jobs and graduate schools. My remedy for this problem has been the International Relations Career Workshop. Conducted once a semester, the workshop introduces students to possible career paths, identifies important curricular choices, and provides basic information about graduate education. More than 400 students have attended an IRCW in person or viewed it on the Political Science website. When students sought to extend this initiative, I happily supported it and now serve as advisor for the International Relations Club.