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Content: Politics and Culture: Student Evaluations and Testimonials

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Politics and Culture is a regularly taught upper level undergraduate course. I first had the pleasure of teaching this class in Fall 2008 and designed the curriculum around a set of popular theories and approaches in the social sciences that culminated in my own research on the role of collective and historical memory in framing national identity. Much of the course was designed around the readings I was consulting while writing my dissertation. Students were given an opportunity to read graduate-level material and analyze various arguments and models. Students have largely responded positively to the course, though many wish the class size would be a lot smaller than the 70 or 80 member size it is. Regardless, they have consistently appreciated the lectures that explain the main elements of the readings, and have found most of the readings to be interesting and informative on topics they previously were unaware of. In particular, students have really enjoyed the study of political symbolism and the "dynamic" features of culture that make provide multiple understandings of one society.

Some have noted the rather Eurocentric focus the class takes, since most, if not all, the cases covered are in Europe or the United States. This is a valid critique, but most instructors base classes they teach around the areas they are most versed in. Other instructors who taught this class focused more on Latin America or the Middle East. I also feel that many of the theories studied were also designed with 19th and 20th century European national identity in mind, and many of the theoretical readings consulted directly referenced one or two cases in Europe - either in the formation of a political culture or in the transition from one system of government to another.

Noting the events taking place in the Middle East now, I might be willing to include a study on Egypt, Syria, or Lebanon. In many cases, the number of examples could easily double but for a one-semester undergraduate course, it might be better to include additional cases if/when I'm given an opportunity to develop a number of additional courses. Some of this has already carried over into the more recently created Theories of Democratic Transitions course.

Because this course has been taught at more than one university, the evaluation questions and criteria are unique for each. Below are the student evaluations for Politics and Culture taught at Rutgers. The evaluations for Comparative Political Culture taught at TCNJ are here.

Statistics of Students Feedback

The data covers evaluations from Fall 2008 to Spring 2013. I am scheduled to teach the course again this coming Fall, and new data will be uploaded at the end of the semester.

The chart below replicates the exact questions students answered. The "Mean of Section" reflects the overall average of the course. It is then weighed against:

  1. other sections of the course taught in the Political Science department
  2. Department-wide courses
  3. University-wide courses
No QuestionTerm Evaluation Mean of Section Mean of Course Mean of Dept. Mean of Level
DisagreeNeutralAgreeØ
1 2 3 4 5

1

The instructor was prepared for class and presented the material in an organized matter

2014 Sp. 1 0 0 4 29 0 4.76 4.51 4.41 4.45
2013 Fa. 1 0 1 3 29 0 4.74 4.49 4.43 4.47
2013 Sp. 1 0 0 3 30 0 4.79 4.79 4.46 4.52
2012 Fa. 0 0 0 2 27 1 4.93 4.93 4.37 4.48
2009 Sp. 0 0 0 1 36 1 4.97 4.97 4.62 4.65
2008 Fa. 0 0 1 3 46 1 4.90 4.90 4.49 4.50
2

The instructor responded effectively to student comments and questions

2014 Sp. 0 1 0 3 29 0 4.74 4.49 4.43 4.47
2013 Fa. 0 0 1 2 22 0 4.84 4.84 4.48 4.53
2013 Sp. 0 1 0 7 26 0 4.71 4.71 4.46 4.48
2012 Fa. 0 0 0 3 26 1 4.90 4.90 4.38 4.48
2009 Sp. 0 0 1 1 36 0 4.92 4.92 4.44 4.53
2008 Fa. 1 1 0 4 45 0 4.78 4.78 4.51 4.50
3

The instructor generated interest in the course material

2014 Sp. 1 0 0 6 27 0 4.71 4.46 4.30 4.36
2013 Fa. 0 1 1 2 21 0 4.76 4.76 4.56 4.61
2013 Sp. 2 0 1 4 27 0 4.59 4.59 4.36 4.35
2012 Fa. 0 0 1 5 23 1 4.76 4.76 4.29 4.35
2009 Sp. 0 0 0 3 35 0 4.92 4.92 4.44 4.53
2008 Fa. 0 0 0 3 47 1 4.94 4.94 4.40 4.41
4

The instructor had a positive attitude toward assisting all students in understanding course material

2014 Sp. 1 0 0 3 30 0 4.79 4.51 4.55 4.58
2013 Fa. 0 0 2 2 21 0 4.76 4.76 4.56 4.61
2013 Sp. 0 0 2 5 27 0 4.74 4.74 4.54 4.55
2012 Fa.
0 0 0 6 23 1 4.79 4.79 4.45 4.55
2009 Sp. 0 1 0 3 34 0 4.84 4.84 4.64 4.69
2008 Fa. 0 0 1 3 46 1 4.90 4.90 4.58 4.56
5

The instructor assigned grades fairly

2014 Sp. 1 0 1 6 26 0 4.65 4.44 4.38 4.45
2013 Fa. 0 0 3 3 19 0 4.64 4.64 4.44 4.49
2013 Sp. 1 0 1 4 28 0 4.71 4.71 4.39 4.45
2012 Fa. 0 1 1 8 19 1 4.55 4.55 4.31 4.37
2009 Sp. 1 0 0 5 32 0 4.76 4.76 4.45 4.52
2008 Fa. 1 0 1 7 41 1 4.74 4.74 4.39 4.45
6

The instructional methods encouraged students learning

2014 Sp. 0 0 1 7 26 0 4.74 4.51 4.17 4.24
2013 Fa. 0 1 2 1 21 0 4.68 4.68 4.17 4.28
2013 Sp. 1 0 1 7 24 1 4.61 4.61 4.19 4.19
2012 Fa. 0 0 1 7 21 1 4.69 4.69 4.09 4.14
2009 Sp. 1 0 1 6 30 0 4.68 4.68 4.30 4.39
2008 Fa. 0 1 1 6 43 0 4.78 4.78 4.22 4.21
7

I learned a great deal in this course

2014 Sp. 0 0 2 3 29 0 4.79 4.49 4.31 4.30
2013 Fa.
2013 Sp. 1 1 2 7 23 0 4.47 4.47 4.26 4.29
2012 Fa. 0 0 1 8 20 1 4.66 4.66 4.16 4.29
2009 Sp. 0 1 3 1 33 0 4.74 4.74 4.38 4.48
2008 Fa. 0 1 0 3 47 0 4.88 4.88 4.31 4.35
8

I had a strong prior interest in the subject matter and wanted to take this course

2014 Sp. 1 0 7 5 21 0 4.32 4.26 4.09 4.04
2013 Fa. 0 1 6 1 17 0 4.36 4.36 4.12 4.06
2013 Sp. 0 0 6 8 18 0 4.29 4.29 3.99 4.04
2012 Fa. 1 1 7 8 12 1 4.00 4.00 4.02 4.10
2009 Sp. 2 0 3 7 25 1 4.43 4.43 4.05 4.08
2008 Fa. 0 0 10 12 29 0 4.37 4.37 4.00 4.01
POOR EXCELLENT
9

I rate the teaching effectiveness of the instructor as

2014 Sp. 0 0 0 4 30 0 4.88 4.59 4.22 4.25
2013 Fa. 0 1 1 3 20 0 4.68 4.68 4.28 4.32
2013 Sp. 1 0 2 5 26 0 4.62 4.62 4.24 4.27
2012 Fa. 0 0 2 4 23 1 4.72 4.72 4.11 4.21
2009 Sp. 0 0 1 4 33 0 4.84 4.84 4.46 4.54
2008 Fa. 0 1 0 4 46 0 4.86 4.86 4.38 4.39
10

I rate the overall quality of the course as

2014 Sp. 0 0 3 3 28 0 4.74 4.46 4.21 4.25
2013 Fa. 0 0 2 2 21 0 4.76 4.76 4.24 4.30
2013 Sp. 1 0 2 6 25 1 4.59 4.59 4.23 4.26
2012 Fa. 0 0 4 6 19 1 4.52 4.52 4.10 4.20
2009 Sp. 1 0 1 5 31 0 4.71 4.71 4.37 4.47
2008 Fa. 0 0 1 8 41 1 4.80 4.80 4.30 4.34

Selected Comments from Students

What do you like best about this course?

Spring 2014 "Professor Rossi is an excellent professor, this is my 2nd course with him and he is always great and really makes you want to come to class"
"The huge amount of knowledge dispersed by Professor Rossi to all the students in the class was great."
"Great teacher, amazing person, awesome class."
"Professor Rossi is intelligent and engaging. It seemed that everyone in class was drawn into the material."
"Prof. Rossi's energy and enthusiasm about the material, and his ability to use pop culture references to make the material more understandable."
"How enthralling Dr. Rossi is when discussing the course material and how he is able to break down information into coherent and comprehensible fashions that accommodate those who have little knowledge on the subject material prior to taking the course such as myself."
"It was obvious Professor Rossi enjoys his job and enjoys this course which made the whole class enjoy listening to him."
"The humour and interesting examples interjected into lecture."
Fall 2013 "Professor Rossi's effectiveness at not only explaining the material presented, but also generating considerable interest through his dedication and commitment to his students."
"You can tell that M. Rossi is passioned about his work. He has an amazing culture and is always willing and capable to answer questions or help us. Moreover the way the class is taught is very interesting."
"What I liked best about this course was that I was able to apply other material and lessons from other classes to this one."
"Professor Rossi presented contemporary, insightful material in an easily approachable and understandable manner. As an intelligent and cooperative professor, Rossi examined Grad-level political theory topics in a manner which remained approachable, and exciting, to the undergrad classroom."
"Professor taught the material in a very dynamic way that allowed for the students to pose questions as well as answers. Also, the material taught was put in context of the modern world."
"Professor Rossi is so enthusiastic about what he is teaching. It made me more enthusiastic and interested in the course material. There was so much work but I didnt mind."
"The professor is very modern and uses examples that all students can identify alot with, he will not let a class to be boring and will encourage everyone to participate. He is also loud enough and very knowledgeable. I love him. I am a better person that i was when the semester started."
"Each case study was explained in detail so that one could understand how previous ideas interacted and conflicted. This style helped a lot when it came down to writing the papers."

Spring 2013

"The importance of participation in online forums, real life examples in class, and the enthusiasm of the professor. The exams are essays which has us better understand the concepts in the class."

"Professor Rossi is awesome. Extremely smart, very engaging. Excellent at explaining the concepts he is teaching. Really fun to be in his class."

"The professor knows exactly how to lecture. Unlike some that simply ramble and you can fall asleep listening to, Professor Rossi's lectures are interesting and keep the attention of the class."

"The professor. The instructor. The pedagogue. The educator. The teacher. I hope someone of inexhaustible authority at Rutgers University, particularly in the political science department reads my comments."

"I loved Professor Rossi's enthusiasm in the subject matter. I often felt that I was in a Politics & Culture comedy club. He seems to be an expert in politics and history, as he made countless cultural references and instilled a lot of humor into his lectures. I'd say anyone who can make politics fun by cracking jokes is a great professor."

"Professor Rossi incorporates dense material into his lectures, while conveying his points in an amusing manner. He keeps the class interested because he provides personal experiences and anecdotes that relate to the material we are discussing in class."

Fall 2012

"The way he tells stories about certain topics he talks to us as if we were his equal and not dryly like a professor who is just there for a check and doesn't really care about the students."

"

Professor Rossi is the most interesting teacher I have ever had, hands down. He always has interesting (historical) backstories about all of the topics we are learning which generates interest in the material. He also has hands-on experience traveling to those areas.

"

"Professor Rossi is so animated that there was always something interesting about the class meetings. The subject matter was interesting and I actually saw a point in learning about it."

"Hands down the best course I have taken at Rutgers. The course was so well organized and completely made sense. The sources and ideas that Prof. Rossi brought to the table had the ability to be the best way to look at culture and politics, but each had a strength and weakness which kept you looking for more."

"I have attended enough lecture hall format courses here at Rutgers to tell that this class was far better than most. Students were engaged, encouraged and overall interested."

Spring 2009 "Material, organization, brought down to a level that is easy for the class to understand."
"The music before class, in-depth notes / conversations / papers on the subject material. The professor - he is the class. Hands down, BEST course at Rutgers."
"Professor Rossi presented the material in an interesting, informative, manner. His lectures kept my interest and sparked my future research in the subject."
"The truly opens your eyes as to how politics cannot work w/o culture. It also teaches you so much that you are not taught throughout high school and even college."
"I loved the material studied in this course. It was academically enriching. The professor was so meticulous and detailed in presenting the material to the class. Prof. Rossi has to be one of the best professors in Rutgers."
"The professor and his teaching style."
"The course was hard, but Rossi pushed everyone to "get" it done. Was a great class"
Fall 2008 "The causal but informative lecturing style, the empirically rigorous articles, the breathing room promoted by papers in lieu of exams."
"The material. Prof. Rossi knows what he's talking about. He is able to relate to the class and he cares. He is demanding but fair."
"Rossi really pushed me to learn in this class. His tough grading and expectations seemed impossible in the early times, but it forced me to truly learn more so than I have in any class (and I'm a senior)."
"Professor Rossi's personality. He makes the difficult material fun with his class lectures."
"Professor was extremely engaged with the material and students. Related content to real world material and showed functionality to knowledge presented  in class."
"I've taken many political science courses at Rutgers, but Professor Rossi and his class "Politics and Culture" introduced a refreshing new perspective to political science. I thoroughly enjoyed his teaching style, the works chosen, and the course materials."

If you were teaching this course, what would you do differently?

Spring 2014 "Nothing"
"Nothing"
"I would probably try to not go off on tangents so often, but those also seemed to be the times when the class was most engaged."
"If anything, maybe less challenging paper assignments. Also, in order to gain more participation points, give more in-class reading quizzes. Relying on online forums for points was at times tedious and challenging"
"Absolutely nothing. This course is perfect the way it is."
"Take fewer tangential comments from students. Class got a bit off topic when students kept giving their 2 cents."
"The fact that I rated Dr. Rossi so high is not for mere sake of flattery or laziness in filling out the survey. Dr. Rossi taught this class about as well as anyone could ever possibly teach it at the undergraduate level"
"Structure the class a little differently in order to encourage people to pay attention more. The two papers allow you to only focus on the information you are writing your papers on."
Fall 2013 "Make it a full year course."
"Nothing at all, one of the best classes I've ever taken"
"I wouldn't have done anything differently i really enjoyed this class and had already had interest in the course material"
"Nothing, Professor Rossi does a spectacular job and is by far the best political science professor I have had at Rutgers."
"Because Professor Rossi has such a strong interest in viewing case studies for political culture, I would actually recommend more case studies in the curriculum. Russia, Depression America, Africa, Asia, and Fascist Italy are just a few subjects that Rossi could further explain with his class - and I believe his explanations would prove extremely insightful to an undergrad course."
"Just ask more questions from students"
"I would post lecture slides so that they could supplement the notes taken in class. Instead of copying the slide, one could instead write down the relevant points that the professor mentioned."

Spring 2013

"I would use more non-European or non-American examples. It was a bit too Eurocentric for me."

"Ask for a history prereq or assign summer break or winter break history readings."

"Nothing."

"It would be more effective if [class] were smaller. Discussion would be much better and more interesting."

"Honestly, I can't think of anything. This is a pretty great course. If he could have guest speakers come in, like a politician from Serbia or Israel, that would make it the best possible class in the universe. Other than that, I can't think of anything to improve his class with. It's pretty great!"

"I would have more in-class participation instead of online forums. It is more stimulating having a discussion in class instead of online."

Fall 2012

"Not a thing Rossi is the absolute best!"

"

Maybe give students more opportunities for participation credit.

"

"perhaps movie clips."

"Though the final has not been given, it seems very stressful to have to finish a paper and then right after have the final, perhaps a change in the set up of the scheduling?"

"Please, please make the class sizes smaller. The fact that we could not really engage in class discussion *inside* the classroom just made things so much more complicated because I ended up having a hard time trying to keep up in the forums while doing all of my normal homework and working two jobs. I felt like I would have gotten so much more out of the class if it had been more intimate, and Professor Rossi is already very good at engaging students one-on-one."

"

Nothing, every aspect was amazing."

Spring 2009 "Nothing!"
"Nothing. This was THE BEST class I have ever taken"
"Include more countries from Africa, Latin America [and] Asia."
"Maybe one more paper and less amount of pages for each."
"Absolutely nothing."
"I think you should make PowerPoints available online b/c we moved fast and it was hard to write so much and still really listen to you."
Fall 2008 "Make [this class] a seminar."
"I wouldn't focus on European culture. I think the class is too Eurocentric. Other countries should be implemented more."
"Reform this whole silly little discipline with some good old fashioned positivist rigor, dammit. More specifically, maybe an optional textbook that shows how theories relate to each other, and their assured points."
"Focusing on different case studies in the first section. The rest of the two sections had great case studies but the ones in the beginning were boring and not as good as the rest."
"Have smaller class size."
"Absolutely nothing."

In what ways, if any, has this course or the instructor encouraged your intellectual growth and progress?

Spring 2014 "Professor Rossi was able to keep interest in the material every day, no matter what was being discussed"
"I was very interested about how culture worked in relation to individuals and the larger community, but now I feel that I have a conception of exactly how that happens. I have a greater insight into culture in general, its application to individuals, as well as to political structure."
"Given grad student assignments, I definitely learned how to write a better paper with many sources"
"Prof. Rossi takes a moderate and fairly objective approach to mostly all issues, which is great."
"I will pursue a future class of his next spring, as well as I am now more interested in foreign politics for their implications in the United States. This is the 2nd class I have had with Professor Rossi, all classes so far have been great."
"Dr. Rossi is a very animated and interesting professor who speaks fluently, and with a charismatic tone that makes it very easy to listen to him speak and comprehend what he is saying as one follows the lesson. In addition, he was always very accessible for office hours to my understanding, even though I only took advantage of this once, and despite being late to my meeting h waited and was pleasant and quite helpful in providing the information I required from him."
"I find that any one who reads this and knows Dr. Rossi knows that I need not say more on what an exceptional professor he is, and the effort he takes in improving student's understanding and capability. I wwent into this class as a procrastinating first year student, and under any other circumstances or professor, I could not have seen myself learning to write the way I write for political science papers, nor could I have gained the understanding I have for international politics and cultures. Dr. Rossi is an exceptional professor who I look forward to having again should my schedule allow it in the future."
Fall 2013 "Professor Rossi has allowed this course to be an open learning environment that allows students to express their opinions or concerns in such a manner that they can be dealt with effectively."
"I would venture to say this is the best Poli Sci class at Rutgers and this is probably because Dr. Rossi is the instructor."
"Professor Rossi would leave the class pondering on questions he'll ask relating to the corse work. He truly does encourage students to think and participate in the course"
"Professor Rossi has explained some of the major political and cultural issues found within the 21st century. His theories on political culture - and his presentation of the material to an undergrad course - has cleared some of the clout found within contemporary political science programs that refuse to acknowledge the role of culture in political systems. His course has encouraged me to explore the necessity of cultural research in political thesis, and he has cemented the idea that politics and culture remain inseparable in understanding how politics operate."
"I have self realization of my own culture compared to other cultures. I know all myths symbolism's and variations of culture from other parts of the world. I am more aware of myself and the world around me accolades piked from this class. We love Professor Rossi. We really do and will miss this class."
"I am now able to see culture as a much larger factor in determining the politics and development of a country. This understanding was definitely not something that I had appreciated prior to this course."

Spring 2013

"I feel like a have a stronger grasp on the history we studied than I have over classes I have taken in which the history of a given area is so extensive or broad that I can't remember it. I enjoyed reading about the cultural climate of certain areas in time because that context helped me remember events and understand why people may act the way they do, as opposed to learning history through the cause-and-effect of concrete events only."

"Professor was great. Nice personality, great to talk to and hold a conversation and also encouraged great thinking."

"His enthusiasm for the subject he teaches as well as the interesting and informative readings he chose to go along with his lectures made learning easy and enjoyable. The arguments he lays out in class and the essay topics he provides really allowed me to explore the material and draw my own conclusions and theories about the subject matter."

"Assignments in this course were challenging and therefore rewarding. The readings are thorough and apparently graduate level."

"This class was actually a really interesting look at something I thought could be summed up in maybe a sentence. Political culture was not really something I had given much thought prior to this class, but now that I have a foundational understanding of what it is, it is definitely something that I'll have to think about more."

"This course opened my eyes to the role that institutions and political figures play in running our lives and crafting the dominant ideology in society. It was very interesting to learn about the interaction between politics and culture, and all of Professor Rossi's points were backed by in-depth case studies and examples."

Fall 2012

"He made me want to learn more about the history of politics all over the world and relate different cultures from what I've learned about politics."

"

Although we read the articles on our own time, he usually explains at least one of the readings to us in class. His lectures are very interesting to listen to.

"

"Its taught me to spend my time more wisely, and plan large academic assignments in advance."

"I learned about a wider chunk of world politics and history than I think I actually expected. Because he has traveled a lot, Professor Rossi seems to have fairly broad knowledge of cultures that are less frequently discussed in more general classes."

"The forums on Sakai were used to perfection. It allowed other people to make comments and questions about what we learned and allowed people to challenge the prime thoughts of the vision."

Spring 2009 "Rossi has shown that the most in-depth political theories can be brought to a level of day to day life that are easy to relate to, understand, and be fun!"
"In too many ways to write, but definitely more so than any other class in college."
"I'm considering grad school over law school. Prof. Rossi is the greatest professor I ever had, by far."
"Michael Rossi is a genius. He is by far the best professor I have had to date at RU."
"The course was quite demanding. But the professor really cultivated your knowledge. He pushed you to think more about everything you read and thought."
"By far the hardest course I've taken in college thus far. Also by far my favorite class I've taken in college thus far."
"The course was quite demanding, but the professor really cultivated your knowledge. He pushed you to think more about everything you read and thought."
Fall 2008 "The instructor was humorous and welcoming which permitted a very relaxed atmosphere."
"The topics he covers and the way he connects such academic scholarly ideas to everyday life and American. New Jersey politics really draws in the class and makes me pay more attention to my everyday life."
"I have learned as much as I did during my whole High School career. Rossi is the best."
"Made me read Grad School material. Makes me think more and prepare my mind."
"I loved the different mediums used during course lectures. The class was one of the most engaging courses I've taken."
"Rossi has definitely broadened my horizon, esp. in the sphere of politics and has really provided unique and different perspectives [...] and has helped me to better establish a sense of politics, culture, historical memory, collective memory, etc."

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