Introduction to American & California Government and Politics

Introduction to American & California Government and Politics (Political Science 102)

About the Instructor

Stephen Goggin, Ph.D.

  • Lecturer, Department of Political Science, San Diego State University
  • Teach courses on: Psychology of Politics, Political Communication, Campaigns & Elections, the Presidency, Congress, related special topics, and undergraduate and MA-level statistics & research design
  • Students that take this course come from a broad range of majors, as this partly fulfills the CSU-wide American Institutions requirement for graduation. Many students have some familiarity with American government, but there is extremely high variance, as international students and others often have very little familiarity. Students are a relatively even mix of class years, as this GE class does not need to be taken as part of a sequence with other courses. The class presumes no prior knowledge of American politics or political science.

OER Adoption Process

1.  Briefly describe what motivated you to adopt OER for this course
I was motivated to adopt an OER for this course because of the high cost of other comparable textbooks, resulting in a cost of roughly $100 to students for the course. Because of the high cost, the book then took center stage in those courses, whereas adopting the OER has allowed me to be more flexible and integrate other ancillary readings in other places, including readings contextualizing current political events. Put differently: no book is perfect, but I’d rather adopt a $0 book than a $100.

2. How did you find and select OER for this course?
I selected the core OER text for this course, American Government from OpenStax after conversations with other faculty about addressing issues regarding textbook cost. I had been aware of OpenStax offerings in STEM, and with the release of the American Government text, I decided to adopt it. Other supplementary journal articles, book chapters, and journalistic discussions of current events are pulled from university-provided electronic databases for students.

3. Describe any challenges you experienced and how you resolved them.
Adopting this OER was relatively painless. Despite some student/bookstore confusion about whether a paper copy of the text was required, students seemed to adapt to this freely (and immediately available) text online. While the OER did not have a full set of instructor resources that came with it, this was not a problem, as I had already developed a broad set of assignments and supplementary materials for the course when I had previously used a different textbook.

Course Description

Political Science 102 – Introduction to American & California Government and Politics

General Education Course (as part of the American Institutions requirement), no prerequisites

Course description: 

This course provides a comprehensive overview of political institutions, behavior, and policy terrain in the United States and California. The course is divided into four sections: 1) the logic (or lack thereof) of the American political system and the historical foundations of American democracy, 2) political institutions at the federal and state level, 3) the mass public and its role in democracy, and 4) the outcomes of government – public policy. 

Department learning objectives:

  1. Communicate complex thoughts and analyses clearly, both orally and in writing. 
  2. Develop the capacity to become active and productive members of the American political system.

Course learning objectives:

  1. Relate political events to both institutional rules and the strategies of politicians.
  2. Evaluate the historical foundations and controversies in American democracy, including the factors that have shaped our democracy over time. 
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of the political institutions and the federal and state level, how they operate, and critically assess how institutional reforms might fail to produce change. 
  4. Evaluate the limits of democratic competence and its implications for public opinion and mass participation. 
  5. Acquire the analytical skills necessary to be savvy consumers of political information acquired from the media, family, friends, colleagues, and campaigns. 
  6. Differentiate the role political institutions, norms, and behavior play in shaping the quality of public policy in both state and federal governments.

Curricular Changes and Student Access

1. What did you change as part of the OER adoption?
When adopting the OER, I changed the course textbook, as well as the content of many weekly writing assignments and exams to better match the course materials, including the introduced supplementary readings. It was quite easy to slot in the OER alongside many existing course materials. 

2. How and where do students access materials?
Students accessed the main course materials through Canvas, our learning management system, as well as freely on the web: . Because the text is available freely online, students had access from the very beginning of the course, allowing readings/assignments to being almost immediately. Other supplementary articles were available through Canvas.

Teaching and Learning Impact

No formal assessment measures were implemented, but anecdotal feedback from students was positive. In particular, because the text provided deep background on American politics, it helped level the playing field for students who came into the class without some basic familiarity.

Because the OER was freely available, and available from before the first day of class, students did not get behind while waiting to purchase / receive the course textbook. While, overall, student grades did not shift significantly, student engagement with the material throughout the quarter felt higher, as because it was free, more students engaged with it.

Because the core material was covered by the OER, more time in class could be devoted to more engaging activities and discussions of applying the lessons of the class to current political turmoil.

Student Feedback or Participation

Student response was nearly universally positive or indifferent. Some students expressed gratefulness for the fact that the course was zero-cost with respect to course materials. Because the text is so similar in content to the expensive textbooks that it replaced, many students were indifferent about its adoption, as its most tangible benefit was simply cost. 

Cost Savings

Fall 2017: enrollment of 110

Fall 2019: enrollment of 108

Alternatively, I would have used a book with a list price of $125 (although rentals / used copies may be cheaper). So 218 x $125 = $27,250 in savings, assuming all students would buy new copies.

Accessibility, Affordability, and Diversity

The adoption of American Government meant that all students could access the course textbook freely. Students had the choice to access the textbook through a web browser (including a mobile-friendly version), a PDF, ePub, and/or a mobile app, so it was available to students in whatever fashion they could most easily access it. Additionally, printed versions were available for purchase, or students could simply print portions of the text themselves. Electronic versions of the text via the web were also optimized to work with screen-readers and other accessibility tools.

Sharing Best Practices

I wish I had known earlier how easy it would be to add an OER to my class. In particular, while one can redesign an entire class around new OER materials, there are many, like the text I adopted, that can easily slot into an existing course. While small changes surrounding it might be necessary, I learned that one can adopt an OER relatively painlessly, and continue to make incremental improvements each time the course is taught.

For both colleagues at my home institution and at others, I’ve shared how easy the process of adopting this OER was, as well as shared my course materials to demonstrate its ease. As mentioned, no textbook is perfect, so the choice to adopt a free imperfect textbook versus a costly imperfect textbook was an extremely easy choice.