Designing Simulations as a Learning Tool

This is the first in a multi-part series chronicling my experience collaborating with two undergraduate students on a new comparative politics simulation.

This fall, I’ll be collaborating with two undergraduates to design a simulation for my Introduction to Comparative Politics class. The students both hold leadership positions in a student organization that creates and runs 4-6 hour long simulations (Strategic Crisis Simulations). We met at last year’s APSA Teaching and Learning Conference (which just released its call for proposals for the 2016 conference– read more here!) and they reached out to me to explore ideas to work together. I thought both the process of developing a simulation, as well as the actual simulation, would be of interest to ALPS readers so I will blog about the experience through the fall semester, including details about the simulation, challenges we encounter, and an after-action report.

This collaboration will earn the students independent study credit and I will gain a simulation: win-win. I’ve struggled in the past to find a comparative politics simulation of the depth and breadth I’d like. I have used the Statecraft simulation for four years in my Introduction to International Relations class (more on Statecraft on ALPS here and here). I appreciate the depth that a long-term simulation provides, as well as the “buy-in” from the students fostered by the repeated interactions. I also like the ability to use one simulation to bring in many concepts, but have not found anything similar for an introduction to comparative politics class.

I’ve met with the students twice now and we started to lay the groundwork for the independent study and simulation. We’ve talked about my goals for the course and developed a basic outline for the simulation. Although in the very early stages, our idea is to assign students identities – broadly defined – within a fictional (but modeled on real) country that is undergoing a democratic transition. At various stages of the simulation, the students will create institutions, have elections, and struggle with ethnic tensions. I know other simulations that model one or another of these concepts; our goal is to build a simulation that draws all these concepts into one. But as I told the students after we met a few weeks ago: “Tell me if I’m getting too crazy with these ideas and we need to simplify!”

I’m excited about exploring this opportunity to build relationships, use the expertise of others, and use simulation building as an educational experience as part of the independent study. I’ll ask my undergraduate collaborators to contribute some guest blog posts as well. Stay tuned!

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