Wherever You Go, There You Are

The APSA Teaching and Learning Conference is only six weeks away. It will be held sunny Long Beach, California, so not much chance this time of people getting trapped in their hotels because of a blizzard.

At the conference I’ll be discussing my use last semester of the Statecraft simulation in an introductory international relations course. In terms of student participation and interest, Statecraft was a smashing success. I was also pleased to see the ways in which students made connections between Statecraft, abstract concepts, and events in the real world. The specific subject that I researched in this course was whether a simulation could teach students to evaluate decisions more on the basis of the process used to reach them than the decisions’ outcomes. I won’t spoil my conference presentation by revealing my results here.

Writing this conference paper  made me realize how much progress there has been in teaching (at least at the post-secondary level) and how much more change is still possible (and desperately needed). I’ll focus on the former for now and save the latter for my next post.

As an undergraduate at MIT about a quarter-century ago, the only simulation I encountered in a political science course was an evening session of Prisoner’s Dilemma, in a room filled with computer terminals. Each student was placed in front of a computer, and one’s fellow prisoner was also in the room, in front of some other — unknown — computer.  Each game had four iterations in which the payoffs escalated, to simulate the increasing  benefits of a first strike as nuclear weapons technology improved over time.

I’m guessing that the main reason I remember this experience is because my other political science courses were fairly traditional  — mostly lecture, some discussion, almost always a term paper, and sometimes a presentation.

My own teaching is radically different, or at least I try to make it so. Probably my perfect class to teach is one in which I don’t lecture at all and the students take the initiative for learning the knowledge and skills that I want them to learn. Simulations like Statecraft help me create this kind of environment.

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