Combining Classes for a Simulation: Things to Consider, Part 2

Last week, Dr. Danielle Langfield of Marist College discussed her experience in team-running a simulation. Here’s part two of the series:

Part 2: Challenges of Coordination
In the last post I talked about why and how a colleague and I ran a 2.5-hour simulation jointly with her Human Rights course and my Democratization course. We learned some lessons in combining two courses for one simulation, and have some wrinkles to iron out for future iterations:

•Align the preparation and background given to each class carefully: While my lecture on South Africa and the written materials provided were duplicated for each class, the preparation required of each class was different. The Human Rights class read background materials with the benefit of guiding questions. The Democratization class did the same, and was required to write a short, bullet-pointed memo outlining their assigned role’s starting negotiation positions. As it turned out, this gave the Democratization students an advantage over the students from the other course in the negotiations. The effect may have been increased further by the fact that the Human Rights course was at the 200-level (there were students who had taken only one or no political science courses before) while Democratization was at the 300-level; the Human Rights students’ general discipline-specific background and college-level skill sets were, reasonably, thinner. My suggestion is to require the same kind of preparatory assignments in pursuit of more similar engagement prior to the simulation, even if some of the specific content differs in accordance with the different topics of the courses.
• Be prepared for complaints about the other class: Related to the previous point, in the debriefing conversation in our next class, my Democratization students brought up the disparate preparation. They felt the simulation suffered because of what they perceived as a lack of peer preparation and, with those peers removed from the room, they weren’t socially constrained from expressing this view. However, I used these comments to launch a good discussion of the importance of skilled negotiators, that underfunded states and groups might find themselves at a disadvantage in negotiations without good representation, that ‘negotiator’ is a potential career path, and that organizations exist that train negotiators precisely because it is such an important skill.

•Consider how to avoid double-dipping on assignments, for students taking both courses: We did think of this early enough to avoid it, but it remains important to bear in mind. Two students were enrolled in both classes simultaneously, and two more had taken Democratization in a previous semester. Addressing the latter group was easy in this simulation: I made sure their assigned role was very different from the one they were assigned in the past. For the former group (those taking both classes simultaneously), we don’t have a clear solution yet; if we do change the assignments in order to align them more and provide more similar preparation, we have to do so in a way that isn’t too aligned.

•Schedule time for instructors to work together on assigning roles to students: Because this simulation did not begin life as a joint endeavor, we defaulted to it being “my show.” For the most part that worked fine. One part on which we should have worked more collaboratively was on role assignments. I have always done role assignments only semi-randomly. Not knowing about half of the students in JoAnne’s class made this difficult; I only belatedly realized this and hurriedly asked for her input. For her part, having now seen the simulation from start to finish, JoAnne will have a clearer sense of how best to do this too.

In conclusion, we would do this again. JoAnne liked that the way the simulation is structured, giving each student an individual role, does not allow for freeriders, which is a complaint in many small group projects. She found that her often-disengaged students perked up with this active learning exercise, and I was able to run my simulation that I consider a vital component in my course.

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