Last week I launched the first of my five two-day simulations in my introduction to IR course. Last week’s simulation was on conflict in central Africa with student teams representing Rwanda, Uganda, Congo, the USA, and France. I’ll run through the elements of the simulation and students’ responses to it.
I wanted students to learn something about a region of the world they were unfamiliar with, experience negotiation in a real-time, crisis-driven environment, and connect their experience to international relations theories.
Students are reading Chasing Chaos by Jessica Alexander to gain some contextual knowledge on the geographic setting for each simulation; I’ll talk more about this book in a later post. Students are also wrote briefing memos; the readings on which the memos are based provide additional information relevant to each simulation.
Day 1 of the simulation:
- An intelligence report — a fictional crisis scenario — is revealed. Each team also gets informed of its goals. I set up both of these tasks beforehand on our Canvas LMS so that I could just click a few buttons before class started.
- Teams prepare positions (15 minutes) and present them (3 minutes each).
- Negotiation (15 minutes).
- Teams reconvene to discuss strategy and prepare counter-proposals (10 minutes).
- Teams present their positions (2 minutes each).
- Negotiation (20 minutes).
- Debriefing (10 minutes).
Points added to students’ final grades, calculated on a 1,000 point scale, served as the incentive for students to participate:
- 20 points if a student’s team achieved its primary goal.
- 10 points for achieving the team’s secondary goal.
- 0 points for not achieving either goal.
- 40 points for achieving either the primary or secondary goal as part of a unanimous agreement between all five teams.
Some of the goals that I wrote for teams were too vaguely worded; for example, “Uganda establishes an alliance with Rwanda.” The goal should have specified the commitments expected from Rwanda in an alliance. Also, teams did not need the entire amount of time allotted to present their positions, and the positions that were presented were too general. I should probably ask teams to create specific proposals, perhaps by having teams write them down before announcing them to the class.
The class energetically dove into the simulation and they stayed within role, so I think the preparation by means of the briefing memo paid dividends. Students clearly understood the effects of political actors with conflicting interests. One student took a purely instrumentalist approach by trying to convince all five teams to reveal their goals in the hopes of thereby reaching a unanimous agreement, so that everyone could earn the maximum possible points, but he got nowhere — an interesting sub-optimal outcome.
In the debriefing, students identified realist theory as the best explanation for the events that occurred during the simulation, a natural conclusion given the competing interests and the fact that all five actors were nation-states.
If anyone would like the documentation I created for this simulation, just let me know. I’m happy to share.