The Change All Around, Part 1

The spring semester is about to begin, and as usual I have changed what I will be doing and how I will be doing it. I thought it might be interesting for the dear readers of this blog to learn about some of the factors that will affect my teaching over the next few months. But just to be contrarian, I’ll start in reverse chronological order:

I’ve decided to use Michelle’s technique of placing simulations at the end of the semester when both students and I will be approaching burnout mode. I have done a complete redesign of my comparative politics course, dropping the themes in favor of more traditionally-presented content like the diverse institutional arrangements of democracies. In an attempt to get at this topic, I have resurrected my Gerkhania simulation, but have tweaked it to give it more structure. First, I will assign students roles that have different ethnically-oriented, two-sentence backstories. The class will then convene as the Gerkhanian Commission for National Reconciliation, which has the following tasks:

  • Establish boundaries for parliamentary electoral districts.
  • Select a voting system that determines how candidates win elections.
  • Create a method for the members of parliament to form the executive government.
  • Determine criteria for successful passage of legislation by the parliament.

For the second phase, students will get new roles as members of the parliamentary assembly that they just created. A student will earn ten points (out of approximately 1,500 available for the whole course) if the assembly passes a specific piece legislation. I have written these legislative goals to result in coalitions with conflicting agendas, but it is a mystery to me whether students will stay in their roles, seek out allies, and push legislation through the assembly without trying to game the process as rational actors. Also I have scheduled the simulation to run across just three days of class. I doubt students will have time to complete everything they will be presented with, but deadline-induced frustration is something I think of as an important part of the experience.

In my Asia course, I intend to run a crisis simulation on the South China Sea. The course is cross-listed with history, and I want the simulation to demonstrate the historical complexities surrounding current political conflicts in Asia. However, only six students have enrolled, so each actor will have to be represented by a single student — always dangerous given that someone might not show up for part of the simulation. I don’t have any off-the-shelf products in mind for this exercise and will need to create roles and objectives. From past experience, I know that I will also need to devise some kind of preparatory writing assignment so that students have some idea of, for example, the existence of the Philippines. The Council on Foreign Relations has an interactive Info Guide that should be helpful in this regard.

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