The Department of Political Science seeks to make the study of politics an integral part of the liberal education of Kenyon students, to give students a coherent and comprehensive introduction to the discipline of political science, and to prepare students for their future lives as responsible, informed, and engaged citizens and professionals. To achieve this mission, the Department places the fundamental normative questions underlying politics at the center of our teaching, necessitating that political philosophy play a key role in our teaching and curriculum. In addition, we teach a broad curriculum covering the four major subfields of political science (American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory) in order to provide students with the analytical and conceptual tools necessary to understand and explain political and social phenomena. Finally, in order to prepare students for their post-graduate lives as citizens and professions, we teach students how to think deeply and rigorously about the important issues of the day, to read carefully and write clearly and persuasively, to listen and engage with contending viewpoints, and to be able to explore political issues from a variety of perspectives.
We believe the senior capstone remains the best indicator of the success or failure of our curriculum, at least as we can measure that success while the students are still with us. With the senior capstone we are able to assess the capacity of our students to produce political arguments and to evaluate alternative political perspectives. The senior capstone allows us to assess concretely what our students have learned. For example, do they really know how the political institutions of their own country and other major powers function? Do they understand the political arguments of Locke or Rousseau? The senior capstone is comprehensive in character, so while students may be able to avoid writing about one of the subfields of political science, it is impossible for them to write only about their favorite subfield. Finally, the senior capstone allows us to determine whether our students have learned to integrate what they have learned in the different subfields (and courses) of political science–this latter, of course, is a liberal education objective and we regard it as among the most important of our goals. (NB: senior capstones are read by at least four different faculty members.)
In our senior exit survey, we ask students about the extent to which they were required to write an extended research paper and to give an extended oral presentation in their political science courses. We also ask them to assess their experience with those assignments – did they find the assignment to be a learning experience? Did they find it otherwise rewarding? We also ask them about the process of studying for the comprehensive senior capstone as a means for integrating their course work in political science. And we ask them to tell us what they found most important – and most problematic – about their education in the Political Science Department. We take those questions very seriously, and attempt to revise our curriculum and our practice in a manner that accords both with our students’ input and our own pedagogical goals.
In our Quest for Justice (PSCI 101-2) departmental evaluation, we seek to learn whether students have developed an appreciation for the importance of developing clear political arguments and of understanding the bases of counterarguments. We currently are revising some of our evaluation questions in order to gain more concrete feedback regarding the course.
And for our very strongest students, honors projects provide additional means of judging their deeper understanding of a particular subfield and of the theories and methods of political science more generally. Consequently, our outside examiners for honors projects are asked to assess the extent to which students demonstrate a capacity to formulate, clearly articulate, and defend an extended argument in the subfield of political science in which the thesis is written.
We meet annually after the completion of the senior capstone to evaluate student performance and our means of measuring it. Over the years we have sought to identify problems in both the exam instrument and the curriculum. We regularly revise our exam questions to reflect the changing characteristics of our field and to address shortcomings in the instrument that we have identified. We are currently developing a rubric to evaluate student performance on the senior capstone.
At the end of each academic year, we hold a departmental meeting to review and discuss our findings from the Senior Capstones and other assessment instruments. Based on that discussion, we refine the instruments, our teaching practices, and the broader curriculum.
Updated fall 2019