Engaging in Active Learning: Mock Political Campaigns

This post is part of the Urban Affairs Forum* Engaged Scholarship Series.  If you are interested in writing about local elections in the places you live or study, contact Andrea Benjamin at benjaminan@missouri.edu.

By Elizabeth A. Craigg Walker

Teaching Political Science can be extremely content heavy, so it is a struggle to “flip the classroom,” in which the students complete the content material at home in order to have a hands-on experience within the class.  I created a group project where the students participate in a mock-political campaign.  While this focused on a National Campaign, this could be adapted to a local election context as well.  This project aligns with the Student Learning Outcome of students will understand the political process.  In order for this group project to be effective, I used weekly scaffolding activities to hold the students accountable.  In addition, you should create weekly Student Learning Outcomes that would align with the student understanding a segment of the political process.

The overall premise of having a group project through the duration of the class is to create a sense of connectedness to the material and to each other.  After running this activity in a 6-week, 8-week, 10-week, and 16-week space, the 6-and 8-week duration is most effective because it gives the students a heightened level of participation with the course material along with a sense of connectivity to each other.  Students really struggle with understanding what political scientists do besides what they see on television.  Even though political scientists do more than working on campaigns, it is my goal to give them a glance of one avenue – to fully understand all of the inner workings of running a campaign.

Here is an outline of how to incorporate the activity within your class:

  • Week One – On the first day of the assignment, the professor should provide a survey (focus on Independent, Republican, Democrat political positions) for the students, so the professor can organize the class based on their responses.
    1. The groups should be unequal in size, but the groups should be in proportion to the country with a large Democratic group and the smallest group would be Independents.
    2. Within their group, they would need to select the following roles: President, Vice President, Campaign Manager, Researcher, Treasurer, Accountant, Media Representative, Volunteer Manager, Historian, and any other position that would fit.
    3. Explain that each person must submit a weekly report on what was completed and an update on the progress of the group.
  • Week Two – They need to create a platform for each of the political parties. There should be an initial campaign speech. This should be an official roll-out of the campaign, which means they need a volunteer plan and a fundraising idea.  As the professor, provide the campaign finance rules.
  • Week Three – The groups should organize for a debate. The vice-president and the president debate this week; therefore, the campaign should prepare them for this event.  It would be great to invite outside individuals to watch the debate.
  • Week Four – Create an online and in-print campaign ad. This helps garner support.  Also, a fundraising event must take place this week.
  • Week Five – Create the first attack ad. Each of the groups will determine which candidate to attack in order to ensure that their candidate is more protected this week.  The volunteer event will also take place this week.
  • Week Six – Voting takes place this week. Right before the ballot is closed, the campaigns need to drop a response to the negative ad.

There are some logistics that would need to be considered, such as the audience for the campaign.  You need your students to direct their campaign information to a specific audience.  I, typically, use another course as the audience.  I provide extra credit for the other class to attend.  You also have to consider where to hold the election.  I asked our student government to help, so that any student on campus can participate.  The students only had to show their student identification.

Even though it takes a great deal of organization, the students really enjoy the interaction and the fast-pace of the project.  There are times that they were very overwhelmed.  Yet, class attendance stayed at almost full-attendance for the duration of the semester.  Students walked away with saying things like, “I didn’t realize how much work goes into running a campaign.” Also, some students commented that throughout the process, “I felt confused and lost about what to do because I didn’t know how to do what was asked.  It made me think about how many politicians don’t know what they are doing until they actually do it.”  Overall, the experience coincided with mini-lectures on the political process to provide context of what they were doing is similar to what other politicians are doing on a larger-scale.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Author Biographies

Elizabeth A. Craigg Walker has been teaching English and Political Science in higher education for 12 years.  She has been a Part-Time Lecturer at the following institutions: Compton College, El Camino College, CSU Northridge, Marymount California University, Chaffey College, Biola University, and Rio Hondo College.  The most meaningful work has been at Claremont Graduate University, as a Preparing Future Faculty Fellow, in which she helps mentor future faculty in creating an engaging and inclusive classroom environment.  She has spoken about teaching practices at the National Conference of Black Political Scientists, African American Male Empowerment Network and Development, OnCourse, and South Carolina Teachers Conference.  For more information about wanting to have her present, and for other professional opportunities, contact her at Elizabeth.craigg@cgu.edu; elizabethcraigg@gmail.com ; Instagram: dr.elizabethashley; Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabeth-craigg-walker-aa008a5b/.


*The Urban Affairs Forum is presented by Urban Affairs Review, a a peer-reviewed, bi-monthly journal focused on questions of politics, governance, and public policy specifically as they relate to cities and/or their regions.

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