Today we have another guest post by Charity Butcher, Associate Professor of Political Science at Kennesaw State University. She can be reached at cbutche2[at]kennesaw[dot]edu.
In the transition to online teaching, many instructors might be tempted to abandon the use of simulations. While simulations present their own challenges in an online environment, I believe that they are valuable enough to be worth the effort. For example, simulations provide an opportunity for students to collaborate with one another and to interact with the instructor in real time, activities they may otherwise not get in an online course. Simulations can also provide a nice break from asynchronous assignments that are often found in online courses.
I have used the Council on Foreign Relations Model Diplomacy simulations in both face-to-face and online courses. For an online course, I schedule the simulation for a 2-hour synchronous block of time. I conduct a survey of students to find their availability and preferences on simulation topic (I typically give them a couple of choices from the Model Diplomacy catalog). I then divide the class into groups of 5-7 students based first on their availability and second their preferred topic. In case students are not able to participate, they can complete an alternative paper assignment.
Having a reliable technological format for the simulation is very important. I use Collaborate Ultra, which is built into the Desire to Learn (D2L) Brightspace course management software. You could also use Zoom or Google Teams. Prior to the simulation, I provide students with a quick guide so that they know what to do to log into the software we are using. I also include “Getting Started Instructions” that ask students to log in early to fix any problems and to have a phone available for back-up audio in case of microphone problems (an option in Collaborate Ultra and other platforms). I tell students how to avoid audio feedback by muting their microphone when not talking and recommend that they use a headset or headphones with a microphone. I don’t require students to use video.
Prior to the simulation, I have students write position memos as usual. During the simulation, flexibility is key, because almost always at least one student has technology problems. I begin the simulation by establishing the rules by, for example, mandating the use of the “hand raise” button. I also let everyone know that the National Security Advisor will run the meeting, calling on people when it is their turn to speak. I am present only to make sure everyone participates and to answer any questions that may arise.
The simulation consists of four “rounds,” with each round on a PowerPoint slide that I display to the students. These rounds are: Presentation of Opening Positions (15-20 minutes); Debate and Deliberation (about 60 minutes); Presidential Decision (15-20 minutes); and Wrap-up and Debriefing (15-20 minutes). More information about each of these rounds can be found on the Model Diplomacy website.
Once the simulation is completed, the students who had the role of President submit the decision reached in writing (having verbally presented the decision during the simulation), and all students write final policy review memos.
My university is feverishly* trying to prepare for the disruptive effects of Covid-19. The main concern is a campus shutdown while the semester is still underway. I have created a table-top exercise on instructional continuity that I’ll be using for a hastily-scheduled faculty training workshop on Wednesday afternoon. The willingness of our library staff to host this event on such extremely short notice is greatly appreciated.
My plan is for small groups of faculty members to sit at different tables with copies of the disruption worksheet linked above available for everyone. I’ll bring dice so that people at each table can generate random numbers. Faculty will discuss their answers to the questions with their table-mates and then I’ll convene the entire room for a short debriefing. There should be time for me to do some quick and dirty teaching on using a few basic Canvas LMS features to increase instructional resilience.
Feel free to use this simulation exercise for disaster preparedness efforts on your own campus.
Talking to colleagues matters. While all students produced negotiation briefs, very few used their briefs as a basis for preliminary discussions with colleagues. Some did seek to build alliances with like-minded partners, but few outside the formal leadership group of HR/VP, Presidency and institutions attempted to build bridges to those they thought would have opposing positions. All recognised the importance of knowing what their partners wanted, but not all acted on it. Those that did felt better prepared for the meeting.
Respond to the draft agenda. Several students felt that the agenda did not sufficiently reflect the issues. However, even though it was circulated well in advance, none of the member states engaged directly with the HR/VP to discuss whether it could be amended, even though it was deliberately anodyne to enable flexibility.
Time flies. Everyone felt the pressure of time, especially in the second hour. They all thought they had more time for discussion than they did and did not consider time allocated for the debrief. Despite the Chair encouraging them to move as swiftly as possible to the second question, it was neglected.
Being heard matters . . . but so does taking part. With any group of students there will be those who are more forthright and vocal, so part of the challenge is to encourage everyone to participate as fully as possible. Ultimately, the time is theirs and this year everyone made at least some contribution. France, Germany and Hungary were all quite active, while Ireland less so. The UK representative struggled to get the attention of the chair, partly because of the table layout, but also because she felt constrained by the impact of Brexit—thereby, wittingly or not, reflecting the reality of these meetings since 2016!
I drew three lessons from the simulation that I can apply to the future:
Picking a good leadership group matters. This is quite a challenge as roles are assigned early in the term and it is not always clear at that stage who will have the requisite skills to manage the meeting. But this year, I feel my choice was vindicated – the HR/VP was effective and was ably supported by the EEAS and Commission.
Time management is crucial. This year I deliberately reduced the number of questions to two to allow even more time for discussion and negotiation, but did not anticipate that the discussions would become so dominated by the first question. Next year I will reduce the initial tour de table from 3 to 2 minutes and in the pre-briefing with the HR/VP really emphasise the need to be strict on time. We’ll see if that makes a difference.
Build on the negotiation component of the module. There is an opportunity to include more training in negotiation prior to the simulation. Adding a short exercise in preceding weeks that deals with specific negotiating scenarios would improve the practical aspects of the module and probably the simulation itself.
Today we have the first of two guest posts from Nicholas Wright, of the political science department at University College London. He can be reached at nicholas [dot] wright [at] ucl [dot] ac [dot] uk.
My favourite class of the autumn term is when we simulate a crisis meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) as part of my ‘EU in the World’ postgraduate module. It’s a great opportunity to turn from (sometimes quite dry) conceptual and theoretical discussions about EU actorness (or lack thereof) and test out in practice some of our assumptions – e.g. about how negotiation and decision-making work in the FAC, how far traditional power attributes bestow advantage, etc. It’s also a great opportunity for the students to take the lead while I remain on the sidelines and observe.
This year, our meeting focused on Turkey’s military deployment in northern Syria. The students had just two and a quarter hours to reach a consensus and draft answers to two questions:
Should the EU respond any further to the crisis?
Does the EU need to reset its longer-term relationship with Turkey, particularly regarding Turkey’s path to possible future EU membership?
The outcome of the meeting was interesting. Beyond rejecting any form of EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) military or civilian mission, the group could not reach consensus on anything. Caught up in discussion of the first question, which I had intended to be resolved swiftly, they had insufficient time to adequately address the second. The resulting diplomatic statement offered little in the way of concrete action while substantive discussion of the EU-Turkey relationship was postponed for a future meeting.
This outcome was initially considered a failure in the subsequent debriefing. But in dissecting what happened, the ‘failure’ highlighted to very good effect the challenges posed by this kind of policy discussion, especially when actors with clear status quo positions seek to prevent a more proactive policy response.
Using the simulation:
The simulation takes place in Week 7. In Week 3 students are informed about the topic, provided with briefing documents, and assigned their roles. The class is capped at twenty students so not all EU member states can be represented. One is assigned the role of HR/VP (High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) who acts as chair, and one each acts as the holder of the rotating presidency, the European External Action Service (EEAS), and the relevant Commission Directorate-General. The remaining students are assigned a member state and wherever possible they represent their home state.
As preparation, students submit a 1,000-word negotiation brief in Week 5. Although the simulation itself is formative, the brief is assessed and must set out the historical role of their actor in relation to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), their goals and red lines, and a strategy for how the meeting will be approached. Students may disclose the contents of their briefs to one other, but only after submission.
In Week 6, the HR/VP, in consultation with the rotating presidency, EEAS, and Commission, produces a preliminary agenda for the meeting. From that point, students are actively encouraged to consult with each other up until the simulation starts. To facilitate this, I created a discussion forum on the module’s Moodle page, and this year students also used WhatsApp.
The simulation starts with a brief introduction where I remind them of the ground rules including the time limit. Then the HR/VP takes over the task of facilitating the discussions, beginning with an opening tour de table.
Approximately twenty minutes before the end of the simulation, I introduce a ‘live’ update that is intended to disrupt their deliberations, test their ability to think on their feet, and get them to demonstrate their understanding of their actor’s interests and priorities. In this case it was a Turkish decision to suspend the 2016 refugee agreement with the EU, which resulted in a hastily drafted additional paragraph at the end of students’ conclusions.
We conduct a twenty-five minute debriefing after the simulation. Students consider whether they achieved the goals they had identified in their original briefs, reasons for why this happened, and what they could have done differently.
This guest post comes from Lt Chad Barrigan, Learning Development Officer in the Army’s Educational and Training Services.
I’m an Education Officer in the Army. Like every teacher, we are faced with the eternal question about what our role is. Are we there to be a font of and dispenser of knowledge or are we there to exploit the knowledge of the students in the room? I find myself firmly in the latter camp and despair at the idea of teaching classes based off PowerPoint and research tasks. The problem we face is how do we get the same base level of knowledge across the class to actually be able to do a good exploitation activity?
I think I may have found a way to do this and it is a combination of using learning technology, scenario-based learning, motion graphic design, Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch and Star Trek in an exercise called Clarke’s Crisis (solely named so as to wind up a colleague.)
This guest post comes from Cathy Elliott (UCL). A detailed instruction pack for this activity can be downloaded via the link at the end of the post.
One thing that students in my International Development class find intriguing is the fact that, in a previous career, I used to work for the British Government in Pakistan. Relatedly, one of the things I find difficult is students’ received ideas about what a job in international development like that might be like. When students join the class, some fall unreflexively into a discourse of “us” “helping” “them”. Others, meanwhile, bemoan unequal power relations in the world, imagining that a supplicant Pakistan is being pushed around by overbearing British development workers coercing them with huge amounts of conditional aid on offer.
The first position smacks of White Saviour attitudes and is at best patronising to local people and movements pushing for their visions of change. The second, meanwhile, bears little resemblance to my actual experiences of trying to spend relatively small amounts of money in ways that would be acceptable to the governments of both countries. Students also come to my class in search of solutions to global poverty and one recurrent grumble on my student evaluations is that they do not leave the ten week module knowing how it might be “fixed”. Meanwhile, I want them to question these sorts of technocratic attitudes that encourage them to seek the simplistic solutions.
In response, I have developed a 3 hour simulation game that
attempts to give a glimpse of what the world of international development is
actually like. It is based on my own experience of living and working in
Pakistan for three years, and of course other experiences are available. However,
I have found it a useful activity for getting students to understand some key ideas
from the literature, including the role of power and networks in policy-making,
the importance of powerful discourses including international goal-setting
agendas such as the Sustainable Development Goals, and the open-ended,
processual and contingent nature of political and policy-making practices.
The premise is quite simple: for the duration of the class we
will be in the fictional country of DevelopmentLand, which bears a striking
resemblance to Bangladesh in every way unless something different has been
specified. The students (usually between 40 and 60) are split into small groups
and assigned roles with detailed descriptions. The groups are broadly as
Minister of Health and her advisory team
UK Department for International Development
group representing the country’s religious leaders
British consultancy firm
international maternal health NGO
local national maternal health NGO
group representing local traditional birth attendants
local NGO that saves lives by teaching children to swim
NGOs working on neglected tropical diseases
On their cards, students are given information about where they went to university, who they already know and whether or not they speak English. I try to organise the groups so that friendship groups within the class map onto networks that you might expect. Sometimes I also add a group of journalists.
The aim of the game is straightforward. The groups have to
persuade the Minister to work with them to develop health policy in the country.
Each group has to prepare a 5 minute presentation to persuade the Minister.
However – and this is the really important bit – the Minister can work with
more than one group if they are able to work together in a consortium. For
groups that decide to work together, they can also pool their time. This means
that if two groups work together, for example, they jointly get ten minutes to
present. A class-wide “win win” situation is therefore possible: there is no
reason in principle that all the teams could not get together and put a
proposal to the Minister that she and her team would find acceptable.
This has never actually happened, though, because – in
classrooms as in life – the game is rigged. The Minister and international
donors are preoccupied by meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. The
Minister is also keen to be re-elected and the group of religious leaders may
have a role to play in enabling or, crucially, wrecking her chances. Some of
the groups find that their very good cause doesn’t fit in well with her aims
and it is more challenging for them to find partners to work with. Some groups
don’t speak English or have dinner with the right people. And not all the
groups know everything about what is going on in the other groups. They can
usually find out by asking, gossiping and listening in but it often doesn’t
occur to them. Intriguingly, no-one yet has produced a crumpled fiver from
their wallet to grease the wheels, although I sometimes spread the mischievous
rumour that previous classes have tried this!
The groups spend about 90 minutes making what they will of
the situation and then they do their group presentations. Afterwards, they talk
among themselves about what they think will happen, while the Minister and team
make a decision, which they then present back to the group. The debrief session
afterwards helps students make sense of the experience and understand, with
guidance from me, how their experience fits into the broader theories we have
been studying, as well as my own experiences.
One thing I like about this exercise is that it gives
students an insight into ordinary everyday politics, as they are most likely to
encounter them. There is no dramatic threat about to overwhelm DevelopmentLand
and the always unrealised possibility of a win-win ending means that there are
no bitter enmities, only ordinary political rivalries and invisibilities. The
international donors are powerful, but so are the government and other local
players, and all of them are operating in a landscape of power relations that
they did not create and cannot reshape on their own. This gives students an
understanding of the crucial point explained by Maureen Mackintosh: “Deciding
what should be done is relatively easy. But achieving it requires alliances
with others”. The infuriating nature of having to work with
other people in conditions of unequal power is a great learning experience,
above all for students of politics. As one student put it: “It helped me
understand the process of politics, particularly the necessity of working with
people with different agendas”. Another made me happy by remarking: “It was a
challenge to cynicism – maybe things can
change, but there aren’t easy answers.”
Michael Buroway once wrote that “[o]ne cannot both play the
game and at the same time question the rules”.
This doesn’t seem right to me; surely it is only through playing the game that
we can understand the rules, their consequences and possibilities for effecting
change either working within them or by transforming them. Policy simulations
like this give us some tools to help students begin to play the game and to ask critical questions about the
rules that they probably could not access otherwise.
Mackintosh, M. 1992 ““Creating
a Developmental State: Reflections on Policy as Process” in Gregory Albo, David
Langille and Leo Panitch (eds) A
Different Kind of State? Popular Power and Democratic Administration
Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada: p. 44)
M. 1979. Manufacturing Consent: Changes
in the Labor Process Under Monopoly Capitalism Chicago: University of
Chicago Press : p.79
Today we have a guest post from Andre Audette,
assistant professor of political science at Monmouth College. He can be reached
at aaudette [at] monmouthcollege [dot] edu.
It’s about time that I come clean publicly: last semester I
was arrested not once, but twice, at the start of class. My crime? Teaching
Students in my Civil Liberties course were wrapping up a unit
on criminal procedure, which includes case law involving proper arrests and
interrogations. To give them firsthand experience, I asked for two volunteers
to arrest me and then achieve a conviction without using any unconstitutional
Before class started, I discretely asked one student to watch
over my snack-sized bag of “drugs” (oregano). At the time of my arrest I was
handcuffed (using fake handcuffs that were easy to get out of) and brought over
to the interrogation room where I was placed under a portable clip lamp I had
concealed in a canvas bag.
Throughout the simulation I did not make the arrest easy. I
admitted to the crime before my rights were read, after which I vigorously denied
the charges. I pretended not to understand my rights while accusing the
officers of violating them, signed the rights waiver under a pseudonym, asked
for and then rescinded my request for a lawyer, and pretended to be under the
influence of mind-altering substances. Each of these represents one of the
surprisingly common complications in criminal procedure.
After the simulation concluded, I asked the class to determine
which evidence could be used against me in a court of law. The results were . .
. murky. The “easy” constitutional interpretation of Miranda v. Arizona began
to look a lot more difficult.
Students responded positively to the experience and gladly arrested me again on the last day of class. This time I played an intelligent and peaceful extraterrestrial who had been living in the United States for many years, a scenario that asked students to extend the logic of Plyler v. Doe, a case about the children of undocumented immigrants. Students acted as a jury to determine whether I, as an extraterrestrial, could be tried under a military tribunal, executed, and denied admission to law school despite being otherwise qualified. The exercise served as a review of the semester and a reminder that constitutional rights come from cases that push the boundaries of the law.
This simulation requires that the instructor cede a great deal of control to students in a way that may not be comfortable or even advisable for everyone. The professor should have a rapport with the students beforehand. The number of students in the class and its physical location is another consideration.
But my students reported that the exercise gave them a new
understanding of what can otherwise be dry and unapproachable legal reading. Anecdotally
students seemed more attuned to the complexities and nuances of constitutional
law in their exams and hypothetical case briefs after the simulation than they
were before. And in their writing they were able to wade deeper into legal
reasoning by analogy rather than a strict factual application of precedent. Students
also noted in their course evaluations that they learned that the law is not as
straightforward as they thought.
Thus, the exercise appeared to have achieved my goal of
demonstrating that the law is not as cut-and-dried as students usually assume,
and that most constitutional law is advanced through these tough cases, if it
is ever settled at all.
Today we have a guest post from Kyle Haynes, assistant professor of political science at Purdue University. He can be reached at kylehaynes [at] purdue [dot] edu.
Schelling’s (1966) groundbreaking work on “brinkmanship” explains how deterrent
threats are made credible between nuclear-armed opponents. Schelling argued
that although rational leaders would never consciously step off the ledge into
nuclear Armageddon, they might rationally initiate a policy that incurs some risk of events spiraling into an inadvertent
nuclear exchange. Whichever state can tolerate a greater risk of accidental
disaster could then escalate the crisis until the adversary, unwilling to incur
any additional risk, concedes. For Schelling, this type of crisis bargaining is
a competition in risk taking. I use the following simulation to teach this
simulation begins by randomly splitting the entire class into pairs of
students. One student in each pair is designated as Player 1 (P1), the other as
Player 2 (P2). At the beginning of each game the instructor places nine white
table tennis balls and a single orange table tennis ball into an empty bowl or
small bucket. In Round 1 of the game, P1 must decide whether to concede the
first extra credit point to P2, or to “stand firm” and refuse to concede. If P1
concedes, P2 receives one point and P1 receives zero points. If P1 stands firm,
the instructor will blindly draw a single ball from the ten in the bowl. If the
instructor draws a white ball, both players survive, and the game continues to
the next round. If the instructor draws an orange ball, then “disaster” occurs
and both players lose two points.
game continues to the second round, the instructor removes a white ball from
the pot and replaces it with another orange ball—there are now eight white
balls and two orange balls. It is P2’s turn to decide whether to stand firm or
concede. If P2 concedes, P1 receives one point. If P2 stands firm and the
instructor draws a white ball, both players survive, and the game continues to
Round 3. If, however, the instructor draws an orange ball, both players lose
My original design for this course included a design thinking component organized in two stages. In the first stage, teams applied SCAMPER to California Water Crisis, a freeware board game. Although the subject of water scarcity was quite relevant to the course, the game’s mechanics were not the most engaging. This should have made it easy for students to think of significant SCAMPER-based improvements, but their recommended changes were relatively superficial. The graded writing assignment tied to this activity also left much to be desired.
In the second stage, students were asked to apply SCAMPER to an existing game other than California Water Crisis. Two problems popped up here. First, teams chose very simple games to modify — think Chutes and Ladders (and without even any awareness of its Indian origins or its connection to British imperialism). Second, although I specifically directed them to place the new game in a specific context, like a city, this didn’t happen.
This time around, I’ll be having students play Stop Disasters and Wingspan. Teams will have to apply SCAMPER to one of these two games. Although they both connect well to the course’s subject, neither game is ideal. Stop Disasters is problematic because it is Flash-based. Wingspan requires, where I work, a significant departmental budget outlay of $100 per game, and I have to purchase five of them. Given the dimensions of Wingspan’s box, transporting all five at once could be a problem. The campus building in which I work is not ADA-compliant (my office, perhaps appropriately, is at the top of what originally was the servants’ stairwell).
Instead of selecting something different for the second design round, teams will stick with whichever of the two games they chose for the first round. While students will be free to choose any subject related to the course for the new game they are designing, it will have to be set in the city in which the university is located. I hope to locate some online data visualizations — maps of flood zones, public transportation routes, property tax assessments, etc. — to help students with this.
After the initial SCAMPER-based redesign, each team will play another team’s game. In an individual writing assignment, students will evaluate the games they played according to the game design principles referenced in the same assignment from last year. I will provide each team with the feedback it receives from the other students.
For the next phase, teams will, I hope, use SCAMPER as a means of applying feedback to improve their game designs. Then there will be another round of play testing, with another written evaluation. I might make this second evaluation a mechanism by which teams earn points on the quality of their games, as assessed by other students. That could heighten students’ investment in the design process. I will probably also need to include a means for students to evaluate the work of their teammates on this project over the semester — something I do regularly in my other courses.
We’re great at many things here at ALPS, but producing regular episodes of our podcast is not one of them.
Sure, we could actually do something about that, but where’s the fun?
Instead, Amanda and I took a moment out of #IntTLC2019 to discuss various things, including how to avoid re-inventing the wheel, what it is we love about using sims, and why more of us should be bringing our students to conferences.