A Simulation for the Flipped IR Classroom

Today we have a guest post from Tricia Stapleton:

FlipI recently joined the Social Science and Policy Studies Department at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), a science- and engineering-focused school. The curriculum is heavily-focused on project-based learning and to facilitate at least three major projects over a student’s WPI career, semesters are split in two. That means I have one 7-week term (approximately 25 contact hours) to teach a full course. For new classes, prep isn’t as difficult because I’m building the course from the ground up. But for my Topics in International Politics course, which I’ve taught about a dozen times in a traditional format, I struggled to cut the course material down. At WPI, there were a couple of workshops about the flipped  classroom, and I considered implementing it as a way to maximize my contact hours with students.

We’ve written before about the inverted or flipped classroom pedagogy (for example: here, here, and here, so I won’t rehash the details of how to do it. But I will follow up on Chad’s post about finding useful activities for students to complete during class time.

I used a simulation for the second half of the term to get students more engaged with the material – Brock Tessman’s International Relations in Action: A World Politics Simulation. A brief review of the game can be found on the PaxSims blog. I selected this simulation because even though it was already well-developed in terms of structure it also left room for tweaking. In addition, it worked well with the intro textbook I use for the course, Goldstein and Pevehouse’s International Relations. Students had to complete individual and group background reports on their objectives and strategies for the game. During the game, each team completed an assessment sheet at the end of each round, which linked the session’s work with the course reading and IR theories and concepts. At the end of the simulation, students had to complete an individual report, assessing their own strategies and accomplishments, and a group report and presentation that assessed their work as a team.

Overall, the students loved it! Over 97 percent of the students recommended that I keep the simulation in the course on the evaluation instrument that I created. The majority of the students selected “interesting,” “worthwhile,” and “fun” when given a choice among positive and negative descriptors of the game. On my end, I found the student reports to be insightful, and they displayed unprompted links between game play and course content. However, I’m currently in the process of developing different assessments to determine levels of student learning. At the moment, the strongest benefit of flipping half of my class is that students were very engaged with IRiA. I also had a lot of time in class to work with students in small groups on any issues they were having with the content, so that goal of the flip was accomplished.