A New Year, Same Old Problems

While the discussions among the ALPS group continue on the weighty subject of whether to wear tracksuits for our short course at APSA L&T in Long Beach, I have also been talking recently with the UK’s Higher Education Academy on the related matter of developing resources for simulations across the social sciences.

This comes in the wake of the critical acclaim (i.e. my mum said it ‘sounded nice’ when I told her about it) for my work during last year, focusing on politics resources. The putting-together of basic ‘how-to’ materials exposed some of the core issues that we all face when coming to new pedagogies, as well as helping me to step back from the process and reflect some more on how we might communicate this to others.

This ties in rather neatly with my paper for Long Beach : indeed you might suspect that I’d planned it like that. The paper is shaping up to be a reflective discussion on the fundamental ambiguities in using simulations and the consequences that this has for sharing this pedagogy.

In essence, I suggest that the two main assumptions of simulations are that a) the world can be reduced to a relative simple set of features, but that b) those simple features produce great complexity and variety. We essentialise, only to expose that essence as insufficient for a rounded understanding, by means of making students ‘live’ that essence.

Thus we are offered great scope in choosing what we think is important to recreate in a simulation, which in turn means that when someone produces resources for us, they will almost inevitably not fit what we are looking for (or think we’re looking for, at any rate). In my previous experience, I’ve still yet to use someone else’s game in the same way that they suggested it be used, and I’ve not had someone else use my games in the way that I suggested.

That’s not a problem per se, but it does highlight the intrinsic difficulties of producing resources that are of use to a given individual.

My solution so far has been to try and approach simulations at the level of principles and tools, with the user operationalising the former by means of the latter, in light of their specific objectives. Alternatively, the games I’ve shared have also pointed their multiple uses and points for modification.

As I finish up my paper, I’m trying to think of other ways that this might be tackled and I’ll be looking to share these in the coming month or so and I’d be grateful for feedback and other suggestions. In particular, if people have views decision-making trees, then I’d like to hear from you.

And now, back to the tracksuit conversation.