Teaching Stories

Veronica Kitchen: Learning Through Play

Veronica Kitchen

Veronica Kitchen, Department of Political Science

Written by Sarah Forbes, Special Projects (Teaching Stories), CTE. 

If you walk into Dr. Veronica Kitchen’s World Politics class, you might think you’ve taken a wrong turn into the Drama department. Unlike a typical political science lecture, her students spend class time participating in games and active demonstrations that subtly mimic the real-world circumstances of politics. These games, according to Kitchen, allow students to take a break from sitting still and listening, as well as allow them to organically reach conclusions that mirror what academics have learned by observing the real world of politics.

“I personally really liked her teaching method. The interactive aspects of PSCI 281 really helped to drive home the concepts that we were taught in class. She can be intimidating but she also really wants to help her students when they want to put in the effort!”              — Vicky Jiang, student
In her eight years of teaching, Kitchen has always aimed to make her political science courses flexible, interesting, and memorable for each student. "That's because," she says, “students are unique and interesting people.” In her experience, two sections of the same course can turn out radically different depending on the students in the class and their interests. This perspective leads Kitchen to experience teaching as novel and exciting in every class. It’s also part of why she chooses to have a public Twitter account, where she creates a hashtag for each of her courses (like this one), which she uses to post extra content related to each course. By following her Twitter feed, students can see that she’s human just like them. “It makes the looks of shock when they see me at the grocery store go away,“ she laughs.

Kitchen’s perspective on teaching closely parallels her ideas about interaction, new technology, and student individuality. “Google will always win for mere answers,” she explains, “but students will still need a toolbox to help them interpret and act on information, and that’s what I hope to provide.” In her upper year classes, Kitchen allows her students to guide the topics they discuss each class. This way, they can use their existing skills and foundational knowledge to explore what they truly find interesting. To get them to this level, Kitchen has learned to act as a guide in the first-year courses, allowing students to get to answers in their own way in order to build their confidence and their ability to navigate information.

The experiential learning in World Politics parallels this exploration. By providing interactive learning games for her students, Kitchen hopes that they’ll learn the ”deeper” lessons of political science. These go beyond theories to examine the interaction of factors such as frustration, anger, and trust – base human emotions that can influence negotiations in positive or negative ways. So far, it seems to be working. While fully integrating experiential learning into World Politics was just an experiment last year, she plans to continue it with slight modifications in the future. She’s looking forward to seeing students who have experienced experiential learning in her fourth-year seminars and beyond, and discovering where political science takes them in the future.

Read more Teaching Stories

More Resources

CTE's Katherine Lithgow can provide guidance on developing experiential learning activities for your courses. Additionally, CTE has web resources on experiential learning

CTE's Mark Morton has interviewed Veronica Kitchen regarding teaching with simulations.