Government in action

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Julisa Alamilla, international relations sophomore, and engineering freshman Francisco Balderas survey Jose Alicea, graduate of Universidad Metropolitana in Puerto Rico, March 9 at Bill Miller Bar-B-Q. Students were asked to survey guests asking if they knew what the definition of democracy was and if they believe Texas operates with a democracy or not. Wande-Lee Smith, political science professor, wanted students to learn the definition by speaking to others on the topic. Photo by Deandra Gonzalez

Professor takes a hands-on approach to learning.

Alison Graef

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Government Professor Wanda-Lee Smith and seven students met for class March 9 in the Bill Miller Bar-B-Q restaurant at 1004 San Pedro Ave. In pairs, the students polled restaurant patrons on their knowledge of democracy and their recent political participation.

This unusual location was “class as usual” for Smith’s pilot section of GOVT 2306-097, Texas Government, which often meets off-campus.

Smith’s classes are set in a “flipped classroom” model, in which students watch pre-recorded lectures online before coming to class. In-class time is reserved for solidifying students’ grasp on the information through short lecture and practice activities.

The Lectures on Location format maintains the flipped classroom model, but adds in a more hands-on approach to learning. Throughout the semester, classes are at locations around the city, including the Bexar County Commissioners Court.

While on location, students get to meet local political officials, tour the location and sit in on sessions to see the government in action.  During the visit to the Commissioners Court, the students conducted a mock-court session, in which they acted as the county judge and commissioners.

They visited Bexar County Criminal District Court April 6 to observe a murder case, and they are scheduled to visit the Bexar County Elections Office April 20.

Smith said she is excited about her Lectures on Location class and hopes the pilot will be successful enough that all of her classes will transition to its model.

She sets up all of her classes so pre-recorded lectures are used as preparation material for hands-on learning during class time.

“When we get to the location, now it’s time to play, to utilize what we learned in the lecture,” Smith said. “Memorization is the lowest level of learning. I have to take you to comprehension.”

International relations sophomore Julisa Alamilla said visiting locations has made the concepts of government more understandable.

She said the location visits have motivated her to study harder before class.

“It pushes you, because you definitely want to know what you’re talking about when you get to the location,” Alamilla said.

Liberal arts sophomore Frances Araugoli said Smith encourages her students to communicate and participate without fear of giving a wrong answer or sounding ignorant.

“One of her things is she wants you to be vocal,” Araugoli said. “And it doesn’t matter whether your answer is right or not. She just wants you to be vocal.”

“It definitely made me more comfortable in getting involved and to go out and ask things because there are people who will help you,” Alamilla said. “So it’s definitely given me more confidence. … Most people are not involved, because they are afraid of being rejected or not knowing.”

Communication design sophomore Juan Ramos said Smith makes her expectations clear from the first day of class. Though the expectations are high, Smith lays out each week’s assignments so he is never confused about what he needs to get done.

“With her, you know that the bar is set high from Day 1,” Ramos said. “She has a lot of high expectations, but you can see the level of organization and dedication she puts into it.”

Smith wants students to know that while she expects hard work, she genuinely cares about their success in college. She believes students who struggle are not dumb or lazy but lack the techniques to learn effectively. She said the learning skills she teaches in her classes will help students to succeed in any other learning environment.

“I want students to know that they matter, that I am here to help them to meet their ambitions,” Smith said. “Many people don’t feel confident. They feel insecure and doubt. So I want them to know that I care, and I don’t mean touchy-feely. What I want to do is give students a treasure chest of tools to help them learn.”

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