The Election Project took up only one portion of an introductory political science course. The project itself was integrated throughout the first few weeks of the course, culminating in early November with Election Day. The course also had a substantial website that contained copies of the syllabus, announcements, assignments, and other course-related materials. A timeline for the course is shown below, with annotations containing information about specific details as the project unfolded.
During the first week of class, a program developer for the Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment met with the students and gave them their first assignment--to get an e-mail account and to register on the university's electronic discussion board. Since this project targeted entering freshmen at the university, entry level computing skills were not assumed. The assignment was then made for the students to go to the discussion board after they had been added to its database and respond to the first question that had been posted. This question was designed to engage the students' interest in the project. They were requested to list at least one of the "top ten reasons to visit the Election Project website on Election Day." Because the students had not yet constructed their website, the entry page of the Election Website was also used to perform some instant polls. The students were each requested to provide a question for this instant poll.
At the beginning of the second week of class, along with their regular instruction in political science, the students were given an exercise designed to get them started evaluating information sources for their election reports. They were broken into small groups, each of which was given a printed copy of an Internet website of no more than 2 to 3 pages that had information about the upcoming election. They were then instructed to develop criteria for determining the value of their website as a source of information for their election reports. Each group was given 20 minutes in which to discuss the website. The websites were carefully chosen according to whether the information was relevant, timely, reliable, complete, and accurate (see, for example, a listing of these criteria at the California State University Information Competence Program on California State University Northridge's library's website. Each team chose one member to report back to the group about their process and their conclusions. After these team reports, a set of criteria were developed that closely mirrored the California State criteria referred to above. When the next cycle of the Election Project begins in the Summer of 2000, suggested Internet websites will be listed here for this exercise.
The usefulness of such an exercise that occurs early on in the information seeking process, cannot be overstressed. The students in the Pilot Project were interested, engaged, and fully involved in their own learning. The criteria that the class developed, working together, during the course of one lecture's time would serve to be extremely valuable in the weeks to come. By focusing directly on the Internet, which can be a source of a broad array of information, much of which is unreliable, unverifiable, and inaccurate, the lesson could be learned more emphatically. The students were also given a paper handout of an Internet website titled Evaluating Internet Research Sources that can be found on Vanguard University of Southern California's website.
The students were also randomly divided into four teams during the second week. Each team would eventually be responsible for creating a website based on their research, and writing a script for a five-minute live video report that would be streamed on the Internet on Election Day. The four teams were: gender, ideology, parties, and money. These four concepts were important for the scholarly interpretation of the election results.
Within each team, each student was allowed to choose which role he or she would most like to play. Four team roles were created: html, editorial, reporting, and coordination. Each team had one coordinator, at least one person responsible for coding the team's website (html), at least one editor, and one or more reporters. The team assignments handout that outlined and explained each role to the students is available here. The handout also asked the students to contribute at least one item to the weekly instant poll.
During the third week of the course, the Election Project was in full swing. Under the direction of the course professor and graduate assistant, each of the four teams (gender, ideology, parties, and money) developed three hypotheses relating to the ongoing U.S. elections. Each of these hypotheses were based on initial research that was already being done by the teams. The research hypotheses generated are listed below:
Parties Team Hypotheses
- Significant Presidential scandals will have a negative impact on the number of seats won in Washington State's congress by the President's party in the subsequent election.
- The party that spends the most in a non-presidential congressional election gains the most seats in Congress.
- A prosperous economy (judged by inflation, GDP, unemployment rate) increases the number of seats won by the majority party in Congress
Ideology Team Hypotheses
- The higher the population density, the more likely it is that a district will elect a more ideologically liberal representative.
- The higher the median income in a district, the more likely it is to be represented by an ideologically "conservative" candidate.
- The more conservative a Congressperson is, the more likely it is that he/she will receive campaign contributions from corporations and business political action committees.
Gender Team Hypotheses
- Female representatives will tend to be more ideologically liberal than their male counterparts in the same party.
- Higher turnout among women voters means more seats for Democrats in Congress.
- When a woman is a candidate in a Congressional race, there is a higher turnout by women voters.
Money Team Hypotheses
- The candidate who spends the greatest amount is most likely to win.
- Incumbents get more and bigger campaign contributions than challengers.
- Republicans get more and bigger campaign contributions than Democrats.
During this week students met for one class session with the government documents librarian and the social science librarian to discuss places to seek information and evidence for their hypotheses. This class session introduced the students to the library, and to how to effectively search for government documents.The election website reports were researched and written based on these hypotheses. The librarians each created a web page for the students, which was linked to the course website.
During the week before the election, class time was spent working on team reports, researching information, and preparing for Election Day. One day a digital camera was brought to class so that each team could take photographs for their team websites. Students worked in their concept area teams during class, and used the electronic discussion board for out-of-class planning and communication. By the end of this week the basic websites that each team created were outlined and in place.
By the day before the election, each team's website was up and running. Each team had also prepared a draft of their 5-minute live video report, and had consulted with their instructor and graduate assistant about what the report should include.
On Election Day each team came to the room where the reports were to be taped and performed live at the appointed time. Each live report was then archived on the web server so that it could be accessed at a later time. Subsequent reports were filed throughout election day by the graduate assistant, with input from each of the student teams. Many students stayed throughout the evening to provide information for the live reports that were streamed until 8 p.m. PST. At that point most of the elections had been called, and the streaming coverage ended. Each of the reports was archived on the election website (http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~election).
The Project concluded with the assignment for the four teams to revisit their research hypotheses in light of the actual election results. Each team was responsible for archiving their team's website and including this information.
The students were also required to hand in an individual writing assignment with the following instructions:
The purpose of this assignment is to give you experience in writing about elections. The project [Election Project] counts for 20% of your grade.
Half of that (10%) will consist of a grade on your group's website and online reporting. These will be judged by the quality of the content and how effectively it is presented.
The other half will represent a grade on your individual work on the project. This will be determined by the instructor based on a paper you turn in Monday, November 9th, in which you report on the specific research you did for your team project. Please write an essay on:
- The specific question(s) you researched
- What you found out
- What sources you used
- How your findings helped to explain the results of the election
The paper need be no more than 3-4 pages. The paper will be graded on content and on the quality of the writing. Typed papers are preferred, but neatly written papers are acceptable. You can e-mail your paper if you like, but it must, in any case, be in to me by the beginning of class on Monday, November 9th.
Considering the fact that all of the students in the course were entering freshmen at the university, the quality of their work on this project was astonishing. Students took an active role in their own learning, and their investment paid off. The added exposure to the instructional technology and library support systems at the university should improve their work in subsequent courses.
The Election Project will be performed again during the Fall 2000 U.S. elections. Stay tuned to this website for more information as the cycle begins again.