Assessment for this course has four components:
  1. Participation in the “Regime Classification Exercise,” including classifying a number of randomly selected countries according to criteria developed in class and writing a short essay of fewer than 2000 words, as described below (25%). The classifications are due on Thursday 7 April (electronically via Blackboard), and the short essay is due on Friday 15 April at midnight (electronically via Blackboard; no paper copies required).
  2. Production of one of two possible “Case Studies” – either of a dictatorship or of a revolution - due at midnight on Thursday 2 June (30%). You have the option of doing the case study as a group project; see the details of assessment below. All submissions are electronic.
  3. Online assessment (15%). The online assessment occurs biweekly, starting on the second week of the course, and is due every other Thursday before the lecture, (i.e., before 1:10 pm on 10 March, 24 March, 7 April, 5 May, 19 May, and 2 June). You may complete the online assessment in any of the following ways (or a combination thereof):
    • Participation in the course wiki.
    • Participation in the course blog.
    • Biweekly quiz on Blackboard.
  4. A final exam (30%) during the exam period (10 June – 2 July 2011).

Regime Classification Exercise

The object of this project is to collectively produce a dataset for classifying political regimes, like the Freedom House index of Freedom in the World or the Polity IV dataset on democracy and autocracy. Each student will contribute by helping develop a definition of dictatorship, a list of classification criteria based on this definition, voting on the classification criteria, rating a number of countries (selected by the instructor), and ultimately writing a short essay describing their experiences and critically evaluating the criteria used for classification.

The project has four stages.

In the first stage (during the first three weeks of the term, primarily during the “tutorial” time in the second hour of the lecture period), the class will be divided into a number of groups, each of which will be responsible for developing a definition of dictatorship and a list of criteria for classifying regimes accordingly. The instructor will provide extensive guidance for this task.

In the second stage (by the end of the third week of the term), the instructor will provide feedback on the various alternative lists of criteria for classification, and the class will then vote on which list will be used by everyone (by Thursday 24 March). The instructor will then set up an electronic form where the actual classification can be made, provide the students with information (including useful sources) on how to produce an accurate classification, and assign each student the countries that they are responsible for classifying. (The exact procedure for assigning countries depends on the number of people and the list of classification criteria, but each student will probably be responsible for about five countries at five different dates. Adjustments may be made, however.)

In the third stage (from the fourth to the sixth week of the term), the students will enter their classification into the electronic form set up by the instructor (by Thursday 7 April at midnight), and we will discuss potential difficulties with classifying specific regimes during “tutorial” time.

Finally, in the fourth stage, the instructor will extract the information produced by the students and compare the crowdsourced judgments of the class to the judgements of “experts” like the people who compile the Freedom House and Polity scores of freedom and democracy. The students will then produce a short essay (due on Friday 15 April at midnight) that describes their experiences classifying regimes according to the class criteria and critically evaluates these criteria. The essay should present the student’s individual classifications, describe the process used to arrive at them, compare them to other existing classifications, and then discuss whether the criteria used to classify these regimes are theoretically appropriate and useful, how they compare to other criteria for classification, and whether a large-scale, cross-cultural regime classification is ultimately possible.

More information about each of these stages and further guidance at each point in time will be given in class and posted on Blackboard.

The point of this exercise is threefold. First, the exercise aims to make students aware of the difficulties of making judgments about dictatorship and democracy, and of the controversies surrounding the classification of particular states as “dictatorships.” Second, it also aims to show students how such classifications can nevertheless be useful for making general statements about the patterns of political change and the consequences of political regimes across time and space. Finally, the exercise should also serve to acquaint students briefly with the history and politics of a number of countries with which they may not be familiar. Such an acquaintance may then be useful when selecting the countries they wish to examine for their case studies.

The exercise represents a collective project by the entire class: the better everyone’s contributions are, the better, more useful, and more interesting the final product will be. You will learn more about political regimes and their classification by collaborating with others in this sort of project than by working alone. Nevertheless, it should be stressed that assessment is strictly individual: I will only take into consideration the quality of your individual classifications and your essay in assigning a grade and giving feedback to you. There is NO group grade for this project, even though failure to meet the deadlines specified for some of the various stages of this project can reduce your grade.

The overall grade for the project (25% of your total grade for the course) will be assigned on a 0-100 point scale according to the following criteria:

  • Classifications (15 points). Are the classifications clearly made, and the reasoning behind them briefly explained? Were they produced on time? Were all countries assigned classified, or a good explanation given for the failure to classify a particular country (e.g., no data)?
  • Classification sources (15 points). Are the sources used for the classification appropriate to the task? Are they linked to or otherwise acknowledged?
  • Essay structure and style (15 points). Does the essay have a clear, logical structure? Is it written in a clear style, easily comprehensible and with few grammatical or spelling mistakes?
  • Other research (15 points). Does the essay show evidence of research into the question of how to best measure democracy or classify political regimes? Is the research used accurately reported?
  • Critical reflection (30 points). Does the essay clearly describe the challenges faced by the student in using the collective classification criteria? Does it compare the student’s classifications to other classifications? Does it critically evaluate the classification criteria used with reference to alternatives? Does it consider the utility (or lack of utility) of such classifications for understanding broad patterns of regime change and the consequences of different political regimes across time and space?
  • Originality (10 points). Does the essay note interesting patterns in the data, or point to interesting divergences between the class-generated classification and “expert” classifications? Does it offer a new and interesting view on the utility of regime classifications?

Case Studies

The second component of assessment is the production of a “case study” of a dictatorship or a revolution. Here, you will study a dictatorship or a revolution in depth, and present your findings either as an essay or in some other form – for example, a video documentary, a radio programme, or a page in the course wiki with pictures or multimedia components (some examples from previous years are posted on the wiki). The case study is NOT necessarily an essay, though you may produce an essay if you wish. (If you have doubts about what formats are appropriate, please consult the lecturer). The best and most innovative case studies may be showcased on the course website and presented in class if time allows (and students agree), but a presentation is not required.

The case study should examine a particular country or a particular revolution (or set of revolutions) in light of the theories discussed in the course. Specifically, the case study of a dictatorship should, at its best:

  • Argue that the chosen case is in fact a dictatorship in light of some specific definition and classification criteria
  • Describe the strategies used by the dictator(s) to maintain power, and consider whether these mechanisms of control are illuminated by the theories discussed in the course (and/or by comparisons to other dictatorships discussed in the course)
  • Indicate whether the strategies used by the dictator to retain power have important economic or other effects on the welfare of the population, and determine whether these effects are consistent with what we would expect from the theories discussed in the course
  • Describe the way in which the dictatorship first emerged, and assess whether the theories of regime change discussed in the course can account for its rise. In particular, the case study should assess critically whether the country’s culture can account for the rise and maintenance of the dictatorship, or whether economic or other factors better account for this
  • If necessary, discuss how and why the dictatorship ended, and whether democracy resulted
  • Discuss any other aspects of the case that appear especially important, contribute to our understanding of dictatorships more generally, or put in doubt some of the theories discussed in the course

The case study of a revolution should, at its best:

  • Provide a narrative of the revolution’s basic events (potentially including other forms of media, like maps or interactive timelines) and its immediate aftermath, and if necessary argue that the evens you describe actually constituted a revolution
  • Discuss whether the theories of regime change discussed in the course can explain why the revolution happened. In particular, the case study should consider whether economic factors were especially important in the revolution, or whether other factors like divisions within the elite or the international environment were more important
  • Describe the revolution’s “repertoire of contention,” and discuss why this repertoire was similar/different to that used in other episodes of contention. In particular, indicate whether we should think that there were contagion or other effects
  • Discuss whether “preference falsification” and “information cascades” played a role in the spread of contention in the revolution
  • Critically assess the role of violent contention within the revolution. Was there violent contention? Did repression “work”? Did violence by revolutionaries achieve its objectives? Was it justified?
  • Provide some overall evaluation of the outcomes and justification of the revolution

As stated above, you do not need to do the case study as an essay. If you do write an essay, however, it should probably be about 2000-3000 words long, though exceptions can be negotiated on a case by case basis. Case studies done individually may wish to focus on only some of the themes noted above to keep the word count and research manageable; consult the lecturer for guidance. Case studies done as group projects can be longer. Case studies done in other formats (e.g., videos, wiki pages, etc.) should be comparable to a 2000-3000 word essay. For example, a 20 minute video is approximately comparable to a 2000-3000 word essay; for more guidance, consult the lecturer.

The final case study (in whatever format) will be assessed on a 0-100 point scale according to the following criteria:

  • Structure and clarity (20 points): Is the material presented in a logical way? Is the material presented clearly (with few grammatical errors or typos, for example)? Is the format chosen (essay, wiki, video, etc.) used in an appropriate way given the material presented?
  • Research (40 points): Does the case study present the details of the dictatorship or revolution in question fairly and accurately? Does it show evidence of evaluating the particular case in the light of the theories discussed in the course? Does it show evidence of additional research? Are the sources used accurately summarized and presented? Are the sources used properly acknowledged and cited? (For non-essay formats, it may be necessary to supply a list of sources along with the final product).
  • Argument (30 points): Does the case study have a clear thesis? Does it make a sharp case for understanding the particular dictatorship or revolution in accordance with one or another theory studied in the course, or against the applicability of some particular theory in the case in question? Does it appropriately marshal evidence in support of its thesis?
  • Originality (10 points): Is the case study presented in an innovative format, well used? Does it present data in innovative and interesting ways? (E.g., does it use maps, animations, etc.?) Does it make an interesting case, or present an interesting interpretation of the facts?

A good case study can be a daunting project. But you can divide the work, and enjoy yourself more, if you work as a group (of 2-5 people). In fact, studies show that the best ways to learn are active, participatory and social, rather than passive and purely individual, so you will learn more if you work in a group. And students have produced excellent group projects for this course in previous years (primarily wiki pages with multimedia), some of which are showcased in the course website. So consider doing the case study as a group project!

Group work is OPTIONAL, but if you do choose to work in a group you should notify the instructor in the first “progress report,” listing the other group members as well (see below; the first progress report is due on Tuesday 10 May). The criteria for assessment of a group project are the same as those for an individual project (though a group project can be longer and more complex than an individual essay), but your grade for the case study will consist of two components: 15% will be a “group grade” that evaluates the overall quality of the final product rather than your particular individual contribution, and 15% will be an “individual” grade that evaluates your particular individual contribution, based on the information provided in the “progress reports” (see below) and a peer assessment form that you must turn in with the final project. This peer assessment form (which you will fill out electronically, via Blackboard) asks a number of questions about your contribution and the contributions of your group members that will help the instructor determine your exact individual contribution.

In order to keep people on track with the project, students will submit a weekly “progress report” starting on 10 May. The progress report will be a short e-mail to the instructor that indicates the topic of the case study, the format you plan to use, and describes in a few short sentences what you have done that week for the project, including readings you have looked at and research you have completed. It is also an opportunity to raise questions and ask for feedback; I will read the reports and, if necessary, suggest potential avenues for research, recommend sources, correct misconceptions, and in general provide guidance. People working in groups should also note who is in the group, whether you have met or plan to meet that week, or whether you are coordinating your work by other means (e.g., electronically). There are only three progress reports in the term (10 May, 17 May, and 24 May; the final version of the case study is due on 2 June); nevertheless, failure to submit them may reduce your case study grade by up to 5%. (A sample progress report will be posted on Blackboard).

You are also encouraged to meet with the instructor to discuss your case study, especially if you are trying to use a non-traditional format.

If you write an essay, it should be submitted electronically via Blackboard on 31 May (no paper submissions required). For details of how to submit case studies in other formats, please consult the instructor.

Online assessment

Studies also show that the best way to learn course material and participate effectively in class discussions is to remain engaged with such material over the course of the term, rather than cram for an exam at the end of the term. In order to further these objectives, this course has a biweekly form of online assessment.

You can fulfil the requirements for this component of the course by doing any of the following three things starting on the second week of the term:
  • Contributing to the course wiki (on Blackboard).
  • Contributing to the course blog (http://politicalpathologies.blogspot.com, also accessible through Blackboard, though you will need to register separately for it).
  • Taking one of the quizzes available on Blackboard for that two week period.

You can participate in the wiki one week, contribute to the blog on another, or contribute to both; or you may start by participating in the blog, and on some weeks do one of the online quizzes. So long as you contribute biweekly – by participating in the wiki, the blog, or by taking a quiz – you will accumulate the points required for this part of the assessment. Each contribution (wiki contribution, blog post, or quiz) will be due every other Thursday before the lecture (i.e., before 1:10pm). If you miss one two week period you can always contribute in the next period (there are six opportunities for this during the term), but no late contributions will be accepted.

All your contributions for a given period will be assessed according to the following scheme:
  • 0 points. No contribution to either the wiki or the blog, or no quiz taken
  • 1 point. Minimal contribution (e.g., proofreading a wiki page, minimal comment on another person's post in the blog, a poor score on the quiz)
  • 2 points. Regular contributions (e.g., substantial additions to the wiki, interesting and thought-provoking posts or comments in the blog, a good score on the quiz)
  • 3 points. Exceptional contributions (e.g., major contributions to the wiki, outstanding participation in the blog, a perfect score on the quiz)

You need to accumulate 12 points over the course of the trimester to obtain your full 25% mark for this assessment component, starting in the second week of the term. On average, therefore, you need to be accumulating 2 points per two week period, though you may miss a period occasionally.

More specific guidelines follow.

Contributing to the course wiki

The course wiki is a website within Blackboard that can be easily modified by any student in the course. It contains a number of pages that present broad questions about dictatorships and revolution: do democracies cope better with natural disasters than dictatorships? Do democracies produce more prosperity than dictatorships? Are economic sanctions useful tools for nudging dictatorships towards democracy? Etc. Each of the pages also contains some guidance about how best to approach these questions, and some suggestions for sources to read.

You can contribute to any of the pages at any time, though you might get the most out of this component of the course by focusing on one particular topic over the entire term and taking ownership of a particular page. You may need to work informally with others; remember, a wiki page is editable by anybody in the course, and you may occasionally want to revise and edit other students’ writing, especially if you disagree with their claims. Nevertheless, your grade will always be based on your individual contribution.

A good contribution to the wiki should:
  • Address the specific topic of the page
  • Be clearly written (unless the contribution is pictorial or in some other format)
  • Present evidence for its claims
  • Show some signs of reading and/or research
  • Acknowledge its sources (by linking to them)

The lecturer will be an active participant in the wiki, commenting on the material posted there and helping to guide the development of particular pages.

Contributing to the course blog

Alternatively, you may prefer to contribute to the class blog at http://politicalpathologies.blogspot.com (the blog is also accessible through Blackboard, after registration). You can contribute to both the wiki and the blog, and you are encouraged to check the blog weekly even if you are not contributing to it.

The blog requires registration. I will send an e-mail early in the term with instructions for signing up; if you miss this e-mail or never receive it, e-mail me from the e-mail address you normally use and I will resend the information to you.

Like any blog, the course blog is fairly informal. Not every posting needs to raise a question, though you may wish to raise questions about class content; and your contributions can be in comments to other people's postings (see the contributions of previous students in this course for inspiration). You can, for example:
  • Raise questions about issues that are unclear from the class
  • Comment on, and link to, articles in the international press about dictatorships or revolutions
  • Raise issues that you think ought to be discussed in class
  • Have a little fun at the expense of dictators everywhere
  • Use it to coordinate activities in the wiki

As with the wiki, I will be contributing to the blog frequently, posting links to articles I find interesting and participating in discussions, but again the main responsibility is on the students to make it a useful learning resource. The instructor will also use the issues raised in the blog for “tutorial” discussions or address them in lecture.

A good contribution to the blog should:
  • Be clearly written and formatted
  • Do more than simply link to other sources on the internet
  • Raise an interesting question or problem or comment on some theme discussed in class
  • Acknowledge its sources clearly (by linking to them)

Quiz

You may decide that neither the wiki nor the blog are for you. In that case, you may complete the online assessment by taking a biweekly quiz on Blackboard. These quizzes will consist of a number of questions based on the readings for the previous two weeks. (All of the questions will be available on the extended version of the schedule posted on Blackboard. Some of these same questions will also be selected for the final exam).

Final exam

The final exam is cumulative, integrative, and closed book, and will last 120 minutes at some date during the exam period (10 June – 2 July 2011). It will consist of a small number of short answer questions (basically taken, with minor changes, from the list of questions on the extended schedule, some of which will also appear on the quizzes) and one or two essay questions (some of which may be taken from the questions in this wiki, with some changes).

Return of assignments

All essays will be returned electronically with comments within a reasonable time (and should be submitted electronically via Blackboard). It is your responsibility to make sure I have a valid e-mail address for you where you can receive these. Marks and comments for online assessment will be made available via e-mail and on Blackboard.

Penalties

Students will be penalised for late submission of essays or other work – a deduction of 5% for the first day late, and 2% per day thereafter, up to a maximum of 8 days. Work that is more than 8 days late can be accepted for mandatory course requirements but will not be marked. However, penalties may be waived if there are valid grounds (for example, illness or similar other contingencies). In all such cases, prior information will be necessary.

Mandatory course requirements

To gain a pass in this course each student must:

  1. Submit the work specified for this course, on or by the specified dates (subject to such provisions as are stated for late submission of work)
  2. Sit the final exam