ISU prof is taking people to school on the Iowa caucuses with online class in October

AMES, Iowa -- Every four years, the Iowa caucuses attract the national spotlight as the first battleground state in the presidential campaign. Its caucus format makes it different from other early presidential primary states and adds to its national intrigue.

And that's exactly why University Professor of Political Science Steffen Schmidt is teaching Political Science 312: The Iowa Presidential Caucuses, during the fall semester's second seven weeks at Iowa State University. The two-credit course will begin on Monday, Oct. 15, and covers the history and future of the Iowa caucuses -- what makes them special, how political parties interact in the process, and the 2008 presidential candidate selection. It was developed in cooperation with the Iowa Historical Society and the Department of Cultural Affairs' "Iowa Presidential Caucus Exhibit" 2007-2008.

"The class will be a timely topic for the pending Iowa political caucuses," Schmidt said. "It will be taught entirely on the Internet -- with no scheduling conflicts -- and will have digital video, online posted discussions, and online testing. There are no prerequisites, but students should preferably be at least sophomores."

The half-semester course was originally planned for 75 students. But due to overwhelming demand, Schmidt has opened it up and now has more than 120 students.

He is also offering a non-credit class that will cover the same material. Students who are interested in learning about the Iowa caucuses, but don't necessarily need the credits, are encouraged to participate in the discussion and online class. The non-credit course fee is $150. A certificate of completion will be offered to noncredit students who complete a brief summary test.

Schmidt says there's great interest in the class because of the unprecedented early start and media exposure on the presidential campaign in Iowa.

"I think my current students are more interested in politics than any year since 1973," said Schmidt. "I asked students who already enrolled why they were taking the class and it's because most of them see all the things happening in the world, the importance of government, the impact the president has on those things and how that affects them."

He anticipates interest among non-majors too, particularly students and professionals in such fields as journalism, public relations, marketing and business.

Michael McCoy, graduate student in interdisciplinary graduate studies, and Mykola Sarazhynskyy, instructional development specialist for continuing and distance education, are assisting Schmidt in the class. The class is being funded, in part, by the LAS Computer Advisory Committee.

The host of "Dr. Politics," a weekly statewide political call-in show on ISU's National Public Radio affiliate WOI-AM, Schmidt is frequently asked to comment on the Iowa caucuses in national media news accounts. He is author of the country's most widely adopted introductory college textbook, "American Government and Politics Today."

Anyone interested in the course can learn additional information or register at