After spending three days in class engaging in a simulation, I asked my students to write a debriefing reflection memo. The objective was to connect the process and outcomes of the simulation to course concepts. As I worked with the two undergraduate students to design the simulation, I had a number of connections I hoped the students would make. As is often the
case, my students surprised me and made valid connections I didn’t consider. The simulation was designed primarily to highlight institution-building in ethnically divided countries. My students, as I noted previously, made the expected connections to Lijphart. In addition, their memos reflected on a number of other connections (Tilly on state-building, literature on civil society, literature on economic development) that were really insightful and demonstrated a solid grasp of the course material.
The lesson here is that open-ended simulations and an open-ended debriefing opportunity give students the room to make these connections and demonstrate their understanding beyond what we expect. As an assessment tool, the reflection memos tapped into a number of learning objectives I had for the course. The students showed their understanding of key concepts and applied them to a case (albeit a fictional case). My direction was simply to discuss how the simulation illustrated course material. By providing such an open-ended prompt, the students had the freedom to make creative and unexpected connections.