Beginner’s Guide to Simulations: Part 2, Benefits of Simulations

This is Part 2 of an ongoing series aimed at newcomers to using simulations and games in their classroom.  Part 1 introduced the series and focused on how to reduce the workload required in the design and use of these pedagogies.

Skepticism is a pretty standard attitude that we face when trying to convince instructors to try simulations and games in their classes.  Beyond the issues of workload and time that cause new adopters to hesitate, there is a more basic problem: convincing instructors that simulations and games have any place at all in a classroom traditionally dominated by lecture and discussion.

I won’t bury the lede: the ALPS team are all strong proponents of the value of simulations and games in the classroom.  That being said, we are also very aware of the limits of these pedagogies, and one of us publishes consistently on the failures of simulations.  So we are not die-hard true believers. I’m going to focus this post on highlighting some of the benefits of using simulations–such as increasing interaction, engagement, and skill-building opportunities– and then turn to a potential limit–the lack of solid evidence that they improve learning.

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Encouraging student feedback

Durdle_Door_OverviewAs my American colleagues know, the UK is a socialist paradise and it’s one of the reasons they’re all coming over later this month (the other is our workshop, which you can book a space at here).

One of the many great consequences of our enlightened political choices is the notion of ‘bank holidays’, days especially chosen to have poor weather, so that us Brits can really indulge in moaning about rain. We love it.

This weekend past was, unfortunately, a very poor example, as the sun shone for a full three days, but I braved it all, to go on a short family break on the South Coast. This included a Sunday lunch in a small pub, where (it turned out) a recent graduate of my fine university was one of the people serving us. Continue reading

Ethical Exercise

Philosophers Football 2Here is an example of Michelle’s last post about activating prior knowledge — an exercise that also relates to my caution against relying solely on dense canonical texts to engage students.

In class, give students the following scenario:

You have a brother who has been living with you since losing his job a few months ago. Recently he has seemed unusually distracted. One day while rummaging through a hallway closet, you accidentally knock your brother’s coat onto the floor. A cigarette lighter with the letters “LS” engraved on it falls from one of the coat’s pockets. The next day, while listening to local news on the radio, you hear a story about a woman named Linda Smith who was found murdered a few days before. Police have asked the community for help with the investigation. Do you inform the police that your brother might be the murderer?

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Is there anything new under the sun?

sun
The sun, yesterday

The journey back from TLC is always a reflective one for me, not least because I’m sat in a airplane seat for a long time and I’d rather dwell on what I’ve been doing, rather than what I am going to have to do. This year is no different.

We talked in our podcast about what had particularly struck us from the Portland event, so I don’t want to go over that ground again. But I do want to work through one of the discussions that wove (weaved?) its way through different parts of the conference, namely the limits to what we can learn.

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Our review of APSA TLC Portland… in a podcast!

That’s right, we’ve decided to practise what we preach and have done a bit of experiential learning (well, the others did – I’ve got history on this one).

Myself, Michelle, Amanda, Chad & Victor sat down after a long day to talk about what we’ve got from the conference, as well as to look ahead to some new projects we’ve got coming up.

So sit back, turn up the volume and enjoy 20 minutes of conversation.

We’d love to get your feedback, both on our thoughts and on our podcasting. If it’s something you’d like to see/listen to more of, then we’re biddable, especially now that we’ve seen just how easy it is to set up.

It’s in the bag

This week, I did an activity in my human rights class that I’ve been doing for a few years. It’s a quick and easy interactive exercise designed to kick off a discussion – the activity can be adapted for a variety of topics. In my human rights class I use it to gauge student beliefs about which rights are universal. I project a slide with a one-sentence description of five different rights – ranging from rights that are widely accepted as universal (right not to be tortured) to practices that are consistent with cultural relativist critiques of universal human rights (freedom to marry and female genital mutilation).

I place five bags (simple brown paper lunch bags work well) around the room, labeled with each right. I give students five small slipsBy ThatPeskyCommoner (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons of paper and tell them they can select anywhere from zero to five of these rights as “universal” by their understanding of the term. Continue reading

A conference that’s good for something

This one, right?
This one, right?

At the risk of sounding like a pretentious middle-aged academic (and I appreciate it may already be too late on that front), I reached a key inflection point in my professional life some years ago.

As a bright-eyed, fresh-faced doctoral student, I was thrilled by the thought of conferences: travel to interesting new places, the cut and thrust of informed debate on key issues in the field, the chance to meet the great and the good, etc., etc.

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Teaching Identity

I am what I think I am?
I am what I think I am?

My students are more interested in learning about individuals than in concepts—this is the USA, where ideas are filtered through the “me, me, me” lens of personal experience, whether real or imagined. Teaching abstract concepts tends to be difficult, but moving from specific biographical examples to institutions and principles is usually easier than going in the reverse direction. Here’s an example from the second day of my comparative politics course, when I introduce political identity:

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Engaging Students, Part 1: Quotes

Hello ALPS world!  I’ve been letting Chad and Simon do all the talking lately, and we can’t have that!  I’m back with the new year and ready to share more ideas on how to make our classes more active.  My focus is going to be on techniques, large and small, aimed at engaging students and improving learning, all which you can apply in your classes without a lot of extensive planning.  Many of these ideas are published, but that doesn’t mean they are widely known, so my plan is to feature some of them on this blog.  Try those that appeal and let us know how they work!

This week’s technique comes from Elizabeth Barkley’s (2010) book, the aptly named ‘Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty’.  What I like about this book is that it talks about general tips and strategies for improving engagement as well as specific techniques.  Each of the techniques is explained and categorized, has step by step directions, examples, and ways to vary the technique or apply it in an online environment.  It is a great resource for promoting active learning in your classes. Today’s technique is the fourth in her book, called ‘Quotes’.

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Graded Online Discussions: Update

Switchboard OperatorsBack in August I complained about the lack of student discussion in two sparsely-enrolled online graduate courses. I’m now past the mid-point in two other such courses, and I thought I’d post an update.

When teaching online, I frame each week’s discussion around a question that relates to the week’s reading assignments. Now that I explicitly grade the discussions using a feature of the Canvas LMS, I see comments that are much more on point and thoughtful, so to me there is no reason to revert back to the old format in which I really just tallied the number of comments made by each student.

In contrast to the summer courses, I’m getting a lot more discussion. I believe class size is the driving factor, not the season. In my current courses, there are still some students who post comments rarely or not at all, but in absolute terms there are more people in each course who are willing to carry on a conversation — which leads to more conversation.

In the first week of these courses, I did notice what appeared to be an upper bound on class size for productive discussion. Students who commented later in the week repeated ideas that many of their classmates had posted earlier. There is little chance for originality after reading fifteen responses to the same question. I solved this problem by switching on another Canvas feature, “users must post before seeing replies.”