This is a guest post from Sarah Fisher, Assistant Professor Politics at Emory & Henry College, written with Roger Yu, PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Public health crises require coordination between scientists, government officials, and the public. This past summer, we had the opportunity to combine courses on biotechnology (taught by Roger) and international relations (taught by Sarah). We created a simulation to illustrate some of the challenges officials face when dealing with epidemics. Prior to the simulation, students in the biotechnology course learned about viruses and watched 2011 film Contagion. The international relations students focused on state responses to the recent Ebola crisis (some resources included the Stuff You Should Know podcast and discussion of Ebola songs).
How do we get our students excited about class material? How can we encourage students to apply class concepts to new and unique situations? One avenue for increasing student motivation and encouraging students to make connections between course material and the “real world” is through co-curricular activities. By co-curricular activities I mean any experiences that happen outside of class but complement the classroom learning experience. In my classes¹ this includes: speakers, on and off campus talks or events, course-related films, and theatrical performances.²
Over the past five years, I’ve used two different simulations in my Introduction to International Politics class: Statecraft and International Relations in Action. They each have their pros and cons, but I haven’t been thrilled with how either worked in my class. I think I could make International Relations in Action work with some modifications, but I like “off-the-shelf” simulations precisely because they do not require a significant amount of work.
Which leads me to a question for our loyal readers: has anyone used the Council on Foreign Relations’ Model Diplomacy simulations? On the plus side, it appears to be free for students. This is a huge advantage over Statecraft, which seems to get more expensive every few years, and IRiA, which required a book purchase (although used copies came fairly cheap). On the flip side, the roles are all domestic US actors and the focus seems to be on foreign policy decision-making. This is one of my main questions, for anyone who has used these simulations, are they useful for an Introduction to International Politics class despite the US foreign policy framework? The Case Library looks promising, but I already spend a lot of time in the class trying to get the students to think outside of the US context that I’m worried this simulation will undo that work.
So, consider this my call into the wild. Any feedback on the CFR’s Model Diplomacy simulations? I’d love to connect with anyone who has experience with them. Feel free to comment here or email me at mallendo-at-gwu-dot-edu.
Another easy active learning technique from Elizabeth Barkley’s SET book is the split-room debate. I use this one fairly regularly, in part because it is so easy to implement and requires zero preparation. Barkley says controversial topics with “two identifiable, arguable, and opposing sides” are best for this exercise. You simply have the students move to a side of the room to represent their position and then formulate their argument.
I spent the majority of my first class of the semester – or I should say, the students spent the majority of their first class creating community norms, or classroom guidelines. This exercise was valuable for a number of reasons.
I’ve long been a diehard “laptop ban” advocate. Basing this decision first on intuition and later on empirical evidence, it was rarely an issue beyond the initial student grumbling. Among hundreds of student evaluations, a very small handful (less than 5) mentioned it as an issue. Although I included the caveat of “if this is problem for you, please talk to me,” no one ever did. Case closed, or so I thought.
As I’m getting ready for a new term, I read with interest this piece in the Chronicle on starting the semester. Basically, I read the whole piece, nodding along until he got to his critique of the laptop ban. I didn’t think too much of it at first; I have always stated that I’m willing to make accommodations, just no student ever asked. But then I read the piece from Digital Pedagogy Lab he linked to and I’m already singing a different tune.
Teaching in DC, at the #mostpolicallyactivecampus (GWU’s unofficial Twitter hashtag), I decided to embrace all the craziness of the election season and design my Introduction to Comparative Politics syllabus around it. I bring the US in as a point of comparison a lot already – both in formal assignments like debates and informally during class discussion – but this year, I will be more deliberate about it. Knowing my student population, they will be watching debates and following the election like hawks. If I can tap into that enthusiasm, I think it will be a good hook for student engagement. Bonus points if it means they become move critical consumers of news about the election. Continue reading