The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Storming DC

December 16, 2008

This weekend, I traveled to Washington with five of my “Global Agenda-Setting” students for their final exam. It consisted of an oral presentation of their collaboratively authored strategy paper at the headquarters of the NGO for whom the document was prepared, the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. It was an extremely polished brilliant presentation, the culmination of an enormous amount of work, and I felt enormously tremendously proud watching it (and the CIVIC staffers’ positive reactions). I also shared the students’ relief that, after a month of late nights agonizing over their 74 Powerpoint slides and revising their paper, the project had come to an end and they (and I) could start focusing on their other end-of-semester necessities.

Every time I teach a class like this I start wondering if it’s worth the amount of time and energy it takes on the students’ part to put together something polished enough to present publicly. Afterward, I almost always think it is, because the outcome is so rewarding (and because by then I’ve caught up on my sleep). But I also wonder. In a sense, getting less than an A is not really an option under such conditions; yet is it fair to deny students’ the ability to minimax with their other competing obligations?

I wonder if other readers of this blog have designed similar service projects or theory-policy encounters as part of graduate seminars, and how to do it so that students can succeed at an acceptable cost. And I’d love it if International Studies Perspectives would publish a pedagogy piece that deals with how to structure such assignments in a way that maximizes the rewards and skillsets involved while minimizing burnout, while also maintaining a professional responsibility to the practitioners with whom we interface. Perhaps there is simply not a happy medium here, but if there is I’d love to hear about it.

UPDATE: In chagrin, after having stressed the importance of removing redunancies from the strategy paper all last week, I have edited several redundancies out of the above post.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.