University's 2013-2014 Coffman chair advocates classroom simulations to aid learning, application of knowledge
Friday, June 7, 2013
MANHATTAN -- Transferring information to students in the traditional classroom setting isn't enough for Kansas State University's newest Coffman chair for distinguished teaching scholars.
John Fliter, 2013-2014 Coffman chair and associate professor of political science, strives to make sure students understand and are able to apply the knowledge they've learned through classroom simulations, role-playing and other exercises.
"I approach my classes with not only the desire to convey information about a subject to students but also to get them to apply that knowledge," Fliter said. "It's not just the transmission of facts and concepts but the application of knowledge that is important to their education."
The Coffman chair for distinguished teaching scholars was created in 1995 to highlight Kansas State University's commitment to excellence in undergraduate teaching and learning. A faculty member acknowledged as a leading teaching scholar is appointed to the chair for one academic year, but all who are selected retain the title of university distinguished teaching scholar throughout their career.
"I love being in the classroom interacting with students," Fliter said. "I enjoy helping students learn what's going on in the world and giving them the tools to understand our legal and political system."
Fliter is known for his creative classroom exercises and short courtroom case studies. Students role-play to find a solution using the knowledge they have gained from readings and classroom discussions. In his constitutional law class, students write a research paper about a current Supreme Court justice. At the end of the class, students are given a courtroom scenario, in which they role-play and make a final decision as their assigned justice.
"In a traditional classroom setting, a professor lectures about facts and theories and the students just sit there and write it down," Fliter said. "Then we test them on how well they've learned all this information, but they are not doing anything with it. Role-playing or a simulation takes it to the next level. The students are actually applying their knowledge to solve problems or look at things from a different perspective. I think that's a higher level of learning."
Fliter teaches courses in areas such as U.S. politics, civil rights and liberties, and administrative law. One of his responsibilities as Coffman chair will be to expand the use of simulations and role-playing in multiple subject areas on campus.
"I'm going to examine the pros and cons of using some of these active learning exercises in the classroom," Fliter said. "My goal is to promote the use of simulations and role-playing exercises to promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These kinds of assignments allow instructors to vary the classroom experience and give students with different learning styles an opportunity to succeed."
Fliter will set up multiple workshops to discuss incorporating these types of lessons into the curriculum. He also is exploring the possibility of starting a Model UN on campus and conducting further research on the effectiveness of this type of active learning.
A writer on freedom of speech, church-state relations and prison reform litigation, Fliter's articles have appeared in many prestigious publications such as The Law and Society Review, Journal of Political Science Education and The Justice Professional. He received the university's Presidential Award for Undergraduate Teaching Excellence in 2010 and is the former chair of the Lou Douglas Lecture Series Committee.