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February 1, 2002

New Political Science Text Gets Sept. 11 Makeover

One of the problems with writing a textbook on American government is that at some point the book has to go to print, but political developments in America continue to change.

UW-River Falls Professor of Political Science and Department Chair Tracey Gladstone-Sovell became acutely aware of this early on the morning of Sept. 11. As she was looking over the final page proofs of the book she had just finished writing in collaboration with two other authors, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and life as Americans knew it was changed forever.

Gladstone-Sovell and her two co-authors quickly updated the text where they could, then wrote a message to include in the preface, telling readers that, where it was possible, they had tried to indicate how the events would likely affect the political process in America and referred them to content on the book¹s Web site for further information.

"The Web of Democracy: An Introduction to American Politics," is the result of a three-year project undertaken by Gladstone-Sovell and professors of political science Michael C. Gizzi, Mesa State College, Colorado, and William R. Wilkerson, College at State University of New York‹Oneonta. The textbook combines the best of both print and Internet technology for teaching the subject of political science.

Gladstone-Sovell said "The Web of Democracy" brings American government to life for students by incorporating Web-based exercises and simulations. Colorful, easy-to-spot icons throughout the book lead students to activities, simulations, supplemental readings and hot links at the books¹s Web site. The text is available to faculty on either WebCT or Blackboard platforms.

People have been using the web along with textbooks for a few years now, but we are trying to capture as much of the educational potential of the Web as we possibly can," said Gladstone-Sovell. "We have fully integrated the site with the textbook."

One of the advantages of having the Web site is that things occur all the time that make books obsolete as soon as they are published, but the Web is always subject to revision. The authors will keep their book as current as possible by doing updates each semester.

She noted that from the home page, faculty can take the course in any direction. Of particular interest are MicroCase® exercises, simple data analysis exercises such as examining the difference between liberals and conservatives on various policy issues; a virtual Constitutional convention, which allows students to debate provocative proposals, such as flag burning; and participation exercises where, for examples, students may answer a series of questions about where they stand on issues to determine their own political ideology. "The theme of the book is participation in the political process, why it is important, and how you might go about doing it," said Gladstone-Sovell. "The story of Max Neuhaus, who was elected to the school board as a high school senior in River Falls, is used as an example of this in the book."

It seemed important to Neuhaus that, since a school board make decisions affecting young people, the young people would have a representative or two with demographics similar to their own on the board. Neuhaus proved that young people can participate, and they can have their opinions heard. He said that whether by voting or by actively participating in politics, the opportunity to be involved is everywhere.

"It seemed like it took us forever to write the book," said Gladstone-Sovell. "It began as a different type of project, and evolved over time into what it is now. It took three years to complete the project." She said she wasn¹t acquainted with either of her co-authors before she began working on the book. She met Gizzi while working on an earlier version of it, and they brought in Wilkerson because he had expertise in areas of political science that neither she nor Gizzi had.

"Besides, we needed to divide the work if we were to get this thing done!," said Gladstone-Sovell. "It was a big project, and we were all teaching full time."

Reflecting on the events of Sept. 11, Gladstone-Sovell said, "If ever there was a time in our nation¹s history when active participation in the political process was called for, this is it."

NOTE: A photo of Gladstone-Sovell is available upon request at

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