Twitter Campaigning with IRiA, Part 1

Today is the first of a two-part series by guest contributor Tricia Stapleton, Director of the Society, Technology, and Policy Program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

TweetAs I’ve noted in previous posts (here and here), I’m in the process of tweaking my Intro to IR class. I’ve successfully used the International Relations in Action (IRiA) simulation, but I want more out of it in terms of student learning outcomes, in particular student engagement during the rounds and better connections between the sim and scholarly content. After the first round in Spring 2014, I changed the course assignments with the goal of more strongly linking theory to (sim) practice. The new assignments were reflection and research pieces for IRiA scenarios for my Fall 2014 class. In addition to completing background reports before the game started, each team was required to produce an editorial, a response letter to another team’s editorial, and a Twitter campaign during the course of the simulation. The work was posted to a course wiki, and all teams had access to them.

I began thinking about creating a Twitter activity after reading Simon’s post on using Twitter to help build community. This blog also has several other posts on how Twitter can be helpful (here, here, and here). However, I was reluctant to have students actually post to Twitter, where I might not have control over content. Student interactions often become quite intense during the course of the sim, and even though I have a disclaimer on my syllabus regarding appropriate language and respect for others, I was concerned that students might post inappropriate content. Fortunately, I already had the benefit of a developed course wiki that provided some functionality for hosting fake Twitter feeds. Although it wasn’t perfect, the added bonus of the wiki was that all created materials for the scenarios were housed on one website.

Teams completed one “Twitter campaign” during an assigned scenario in the simulation. I dictated which scenario based on a team’s possible points per round. The IRiA text establishes the number of points a team competes for in a scenario: 1, 3, 5, or 10 points. Teams working toward a 10-point objective usually have several tasks to complete, and are very busy in class. Teams on the lower end – fighting for 1-point or 3-point objectives – reported in Spring 2014 that they felt less engaged in those rounds. They simply have less to do to “win” their objective, and end up taking a backseat to other teams’ efforts. The Twitter campaign was a way to think about and participate in a round, even if a team didn’t have much to contribute or gain from negotiations in terms of points. To make sure that students were engaging with the material, and not just posting a few offhand remarks, students were also required to turn in a “campaign strategy” at the start of the round. In this 3-page report, the team explained its strategy for its Twitter campaign in the context of its objectives and potential events in the scenario. The report included any predetermined content (fully-formed tweets, hashtag ideas, etc.). And, the team was asked to consider potential weaknesses in its campaign and address how it might respond to any attempts to exploit these vulnerabilities.

Overall, the students performed well. Their reports showed a good grasp of how to use social media to promote their agenda, as well as explorations of how their campaigns might backfire. Student evaluations of the sim overwhelmingly indicated that the Twitter campaign was really interesting, and it made them think about the connections between media and politics. The IRiA text currently has no role for the media, so it does fill a conspicuous gap. However, teams didn’t engage much with each other on Twitter beyond their assigned scenario. In the future, I might offer extra credit for additional tweets, or figure out a way to designate one team member as the communications director.