Combining Classes for a Simulation: Things to Consider. A guest post by Dr. Danielle Langfield

This week we feature part 1 of a two-post series on how to run a simulation in a low-enrolled course by teaming up with another professor. The author, Dr. Danielle Langfield, is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marist College.


Part 1: Facilitating Conditions

This past semester, I faced a challenge: an insufficient number of students enrolled in my advanced undergraduate Democratization course to run a simulation negotiating the end of apartheid in South Africa. I have included this simulation in the past eight iterations of the course, as it serves to teach a relatively abstract set of arguments about elite interests and their interactions in determining regime outcomes. Before I created the simulation, students struggled with this material mightily, but having students adopt the roles of those elites has helped them master the theoretical and historical material. Only last semester I did not have the minimum of 12 students needed for all the necessary roles. What to do?

My department chair, JoAnne Myers, was teaching Politics of Human Rights at the intermediate undergraduate level and offered her students for the simulation. With the two classes, we had 28 students in total, more than enough to run the simulation. It worked well enough that we have talked about needing to offer the two courses in the same semester in the future so that we can do it again. But that does not mean there were not some lessons to be learned and considerations to take into account when two courses share a simulation.

First, we benefitted from specific circumstances that made it easier to combine classes logistically:

•The topics worked together: This is an obvious prerequisite for a joint activity, but it bears noting. My caution would be to not underestimate the difficulty of finding synergy between two courses, especially if you are extending an existing activity to a second course rather than creating something new for both. JoAnne had to think about how the readings and topics of the simulation could serve the different subject and emphases of her course. Reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography was appropriate for a class looking beyond the theory of human rights to its application. Adding the simulation near the end of the semester allowed for the politics of negotiating human rights to come to the fore.

•Course syllabi were new and/or easy to change: JoAnne was teaching Human Rights for the first time, so there was no issue in rearranging an old syllabus to ‘make space’ for the simulation.

•Time slots of the two courses were compatible: Democratization was offered in two 75-minute sessions each week during the day, but Human Rights was a two-and-a-half-hour class one evening a week. I taught half of one Human Rights class, to provide background on the South African case and to explain the simulation. Two weeks later, the classes met jointly during the Human Rights evening slot for the simulation itself. Having one of the classes held in one large block of time, at a relatively unusual time of day, meant everyone was available.

•The composition of our student body meant everyone was available: Our student body is mostly traditionally-aged and have more flexible work and family schedules, on average, than do many student bodies. Students in the Democratization course were told on the syllabus and on the first day of class in January that their attendance was required one evening in April. Apparently all were able to make appropriate arrangements to attend the simulation. That would not be possible everywhere. (I also cancelled class when I attended a conference in April, to ‘make up’ the time to my students.)

None of these issues are necessarily insurmountable if your circumstances are different than ours, but they do need to be considered.

In the next post, I discuss the problems we discovered while conducting a joint simulation.

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