Policy Atlas:Student Learning Module

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What is the PolicyAtlas Student Learning Module?

The PolicyAtlas Student Learning Module is an “open source homework assignment” available to instructors and hosted by PolicyAtlas.org. For the assignment, students research a specific type of public policy and then summarize its potential benefits, tradeoffs, adoption history, stakeholders, and underlying scholarly research.

At its core, the Student Learning Module provides a framework for students to use in thinking about the process of developing an actual public policy to serve a specific policy goal. It was developed in consultation with policymakers who possess experience in proposing policies, including those ultimately implemented following key policy windows such as the State of the City or State of the State Addresses.

You can read more about PolicyAtlas at our About page.

What is a policy memo?

A policy memorandum, or memo, is a specific form of communication employed to analyze, and typically issue recommendations, related to a specific public policy. Most often, a policy memo is relatively short (perhaps 2-3 pages long) and attempts to recommend the adoption of a policy or set of policies to a key decision-maker (e.g., a Commissioner, Mayor or Governor) as a potential solution to a local problem. An excellent resource for tips in writing an actual policy memo can be found on the website for New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at: https://wagner.nyu.edu/files/students/WritingMemos.pdf.

Unlike a jurisdiction-specific policy memo, PolicyAtlas focuses on describing policies in conceptual terms in order to facilitate the policies’ adoption by a diverse range of inherently unique adopting jurisdictions and governments. Nonetheless, the Student Learning Module intends to mirror the key elements of an actual policy memo and the typical questions an elected official or their appointee might ask when considering whether or not to advance a policy. These questions often include some variation of the following, with the relevant section of the assignment noted in parentheses:

  1. “How would you summarize the policy?” (Concept)
  2. “What is the problem we are trying to solve -- i.e., what are the primary goals of the policy?” (Goals)
  3. “Walk me through an example of how this policy would work.” (Example)
  4. “What are the cons of implementing the policy?” (Tradeoffs)
  5. “In what circumstances is this policy most effective?” (Compatibility Assessment)
  6. “What kinds of rules and regulations are we going to have to set for the policy to maximize its impact and reduce fraud, waste and abuse?” (Design)
  7. “Have similar jurisdictions adopted this policy? How do they deal with the issue?” (Adoption)
  8. “What are groups such as the advocates and unions going to say about this idea?” (Stakeholders)
  9. “What academic research exists on the policy so far, and where can I find out more resources to help implement it?” (Research/Resources/Footnotes)

How does the Student Learning Module work?

In general, the Student Learning Module is designed to be a multi-­week, standalone, graduate-­level student assignment with limited administrative burden on the instructor. Whether the assignment is required or as extra credit, PolicyAtlas will happily design, collect, and even provide its evaluations of student assignments depending on the goals of the instructor. Assignments are published by students using wiki software on policyatlas.org, where the submissions will serve as the foundational entry for further editing and expansion by volunteers (like Wikipedia).

What is a sample schedule for administering the Student Learning Module?

  • Introduction: PolicyAtlas delivers a brief, perhaps 20-minute presentation to your students to introduce the assignment. Past presentations have been delivered both in-person and via video chat (e.g., Google Hangout). The presentation can be given early or mid-semester.
  • Week 1: Students create an account on PolicyAtlas.org and select a policy from a list of policies available for adoption by editing the page to add their username next to it and emailing us at policyatlas_exec@googlegroups.com. Students can also propose a policy of their own choosing and email us and the professor for confirmation and feedback.
  • Week 3: Deadline for students submit a draft policy entry. Students email PolicyAtlas and their professor to confirm their submission.
  • Week 4 (Optional): PolicyAtlas provides students with feedback on their entries (either directly or through their professor), allowing students the opportunity to improve them prior to final grading. This step has proved valuable in improving the caliber of student submissions.
  • End of Semester (Optional): Deadline for students to edit and improve their draft policy entry and complete a survey, which will allow PolicyAtlas to share data on the students' experiences with the professor. To facilitate a sense of community and a habit of editing others' work, supplemental option to reward students for the editing of their peers' submissions.
  • Post-Assignment: PolicyAtlas shares feedback to Professor for consideration in assigning credit/grade to student work.

What are the benefits of using the Student Learning Module?

Student Benefits Instructor Benefits Societal Benefits
*Gain experience in comprehensively analyzing a public policy in a real-­world context. *Save time to put toward other instructional activities by using a ready-­made assignment. *Increase access to scholarly research in policymaking.
*Create published work in a sharable medium. *Motivate students to do their best work by publishing on a medium for professionals. *Newly catalogues and classifies public policies in practice for researchers.
*Learn about wikis and a new resource for public policy information. *Instill civic participation and informed policymaking in students, future policymakers. *Informs policymakers, leading to meaningful benefits in people’s lives.

What are some good examples of well-written student entries?

Some of our favorite student articles to-date are: Driverless car allowances, Participatory budgeting procedures, Tax increase limitations (TILs) and Taxi medallion systems.

How do I learn more?

For specific questions, or to express an interest in using the Student Learning Module in your classroom, please send us an email.

If you are a student seeking instructions on how to contribute a policy, you should also: