Aug. 18, 2008
Professor-delegate will teach classes from Democratic National Convention
A University of Iowa political scientist plans to turn a scheduling conflict into a unique learning opportunity for his students by teaching classes remotely from the Democratic National Convention.
The convention takes place in Denver Aug. 25-28 during the first week of classes at the UI. Professor David Redlawsk wanted to attend the convention as a delegate, and he happens to be teaching two courses on political campaigns. So, he decided to teach from the convention using Webcams and video and text blogs.
Redlawsk will give students an insider's view of the event by interviewing politicians, campaign staff, journalists, celebrities and "average Joes" about their experiences at the convention. He'll post the interviews online along with his own commentary as a participant-observer.
A total of 60 students are enrolled in the courses. Both classes meet in the morning, and since convention activities take place in the afternoon and evening, Redlawsk will join his students live via Webcam to lead discussions.
"The topic of the courses is campaigning, and I'm going to be in the middle of one of the biggest campaign events. It just seemed natural to connect these things," Redlawsk said. "It's a great opportunity to link the readings and theory we'll cover in class to the real world of campaigns and politics. My hope is that students will be able to experience the convention directly through me."
Redlawsk will ask his students to reflect on two key issues: the role of the modern convention, and how conventions are funded.
"At one time, the convention was where the nominee was selected. There were battles and multiple ballots; you didn't know who the nominee was until you got there. That has not been the case for a number of years. Now, it's sewn up before you get there," he said. "The class will consider why we still have conventions and what role they still play in the nomination process."
Redlawsk plans to discuss with his students how conventions bring together and motivate party activists, play a role in establishing and adopting party platforms and rules, promote a sense of camaraderie, and serve as important public relations events for the parties just before the final push for the election. But he intends to keep an open mind about the role of modern conventions, noting that his perspective could change as he takes part in one.
Students will also examine the cost of conventions, and how funding for the events isn't subject to regular campaign rules.
"Corporations underwrite parts of the convention through large-scale donations called soft money," Redlawsk said. "We'll look at corporate sponsorship of conventions as part of a general discussion of the role of money in politics."
Redlawsk pledged as a John Edwards delegate from Iowa's Second District. At Edwards' request, he will support Barack Obama at the convention.
As he prepares for his double-duty days at the convention, Redlawsk realizes he may face some bumps in the road with technology, or at least a lack of sleep.
"With the amount of technology I'm dealing with, I realize there could be glitches and that we'll all have to be a bit flexible," Redlawsk said. "I may be spending my overnights getting things ready for class, uploading videos to the server, but it'll be worth the effort. I can sleep on the plane."
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500
MEDIA CONTACTS: Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070 (office), 319-430-6576 (cell), firstname.lastname@example.org; David Redlawsk, UI Department of Political Science, 319-400-1134 (cell) or email@example.com
NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Redlawsk is seeking journalists at the convention who are willing to share perspectives on covering the campaigns with his students. Anyone willing to help can contact him by cell phone at 319-400-1134.