The Fun of Political Science: Dr. Marc Hutchison on His Fall 2020 Plan

As the chair of URI’s political science department, Professor Marc Hutchison is used to having his hands full. But even an administrator and scholar as skilled as he is found the sudden shift to online learning come March 2020 to be, as he puts it, intimidating. With only one week to manage 400 students, 16 teaching assistants, and an entire department of faculty and staff, Hutchison had to sit down and make a plan. After making some changes to the syllabi for his courses and taking advantage of the learning software Top Hat he’d used while teaching in-person — as well as the addition of TechSmith Relay to record lectures — Hutchison struck a balance to effectively finish the remainder of the semester.

After the whirlwind that was the Spring 2020 semester came to a close, Hutchison joined other URI faculty to help make a plan for the upcoming fall term. “The Office for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning and other places on campus have really stepped up in teaching us how to do this,” he says. Over the summer, Hutchison had the opportunity to participate in trainings to help better his understanding of online pedagogy and URI’s new virtual learning platform, Brightspace. “I feel as though I’m able to do things right because I had the right training,” he explains. As for the future, Hutchison looks to the positives of online learning, most notably URI’s recently-acquired Zoom license, which allows every faculty member at the university to access the video communications technology for better online lecture quality while giving professors like Hutchison the ability to break their classes down into more manageable groups. “Sometimes students feel a little lost in your class of 200,” he explains. “So breaking the class down into groups of 25 students is nice. And some of the changes they’re making to the course delivery does allow us to get in front of a class in small group environments, which is different but better.”

Even with all the changes coming their way, students can still expect to have just as much of a meaningful time taking political science courses as they would have if they were taught in-person. With the upcoming election this year, for instance, Hutchison notes that students enrolled in political science courses can look forward to fun activities like digital watch parties and learning how to perform exit polls by phone. Now, armed with a new set of skills and a better understanding of online learning thanks to rigorous training and practice, Hutchison and his faculty are more ready than ever to take on the term ahead. “We’re still going to get to the fun of why people want to study political science in the first place,” he says.

~Written by Chase Hoffman, Writing & Rhetoric and Anthropology Double Major, URI Class of December 2020