More reflections on the “World Climate Simulation”: Class Size Matters

I am following up once again on the World Climate Simulation exercise which I run in my Introduction to International Relations courses. This semester I am teaching two sections of the class, which meet back-to-back three times a week.

My first section is a group of eight students. In my second section I have 27 students. In the past I have only run the exercise in large groups (approx. 27 to 30 students). I was curious as to how the two different sections would play out as I had never applied it to such a small group. Maybe not to anyone’s surprise, there were some stark differences in the way the games played out.

Credit: classsizematters.org

  1. My eight-person class required much more handholding on my end, regarding the incentives their countries would have in any climate negotiations. Part of the problem was that the students were too nice and not taking on the characteristics – even though they are outlined on their character sheets.
  2. The intimacy of the small group also made them less antagonistic towards each other. I attribute this largely to the fact that each student represented one country on their own. This differs from the larger class, in which each group was made up of approximately 3 to 4 students. The lack of having someone to back you up or to discuss concerns internally may seem to make the students more timid.  
  3. So far, all large groups eventually find the website for the simulation, pulling up the interface and trying to figure out the numbers needed to achieve the temperature goal. My smaller group did not do that at any point. They stuck to informal conversations and polite negotiation strategies.
  4. Interestingly, the smaller group did not achieve the climate goal, meaning they were not able to commit enough to emissions reduction to achieve a lower than 2 degrees Celsius warming by the year 2100. As I reflected earlier, usually the prospect of losing extra credit eventually spurns on students to just get it together. I did not observe this in the smaller class.
  5. Funnily but also sadly, after checking in the debrief with both classes, neither of the groups – in their competitive efforts to commit the least to the climate summit – ever considered the reason why there was a climate summit aka saving the planet.