Reflections on my Spring 2024 Podcasting Project

In Spring 2024, I conducted a semester-long podcasting project with my students in my “International Relations and Popular Culture” class. I wrote about this idea last December if you want to get a broader overview of what I did. I want to use this post to provide some reflections on how it went, and what sort of changes I will be making in the Fall 2024 semester in two sections of the same course. I think podcasting projects are a fantastic way to have students conduct traditional research. But then they get to write podcast scripts and record episodes which ask them to translate more academic based research  into forward-facing publicly engaging content.

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The Idea of a World Government

In my Introduction to International Relations class, I have been running for the past few semesters a last-day exercise with my students, in which I ask them to envision a genuine World Government (not the United Nations in its current form). This serves four purposes: 1) It gets their creative juices flowing; 2) it allows for a stand alone exercise without having to do much prep; 3) it provides an outlet for “global problems need a global response”; and 4) it asks of them to challenge a core premise in international relations: anarchy, as the absence of world government, on the international stage, and subsequent assumed state behaviors. What would a world government look like to “make away” with anarchy?

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Welcoming New Regular Columnist, Dr. Jeremy Moulton!

Jeremy has contributed so many guest posts that we invited him to join us as a regular columnist!

Dr. Moulton has been working at the University of York since 2017. He has previously taught at York’s Department of Environment & Geography and at the University of Hull’s School of Politics and International Studies. His teaching practice centres on comparative politics, environmental politics, European Union studies, and the politics of the UK, across Undergraduate and Postgraduate programmes in the Department of Politics and International Relations. He has published peer-reviewed work on EU climate action, urban ecological modernisation, political myth, UK politics and renewables policy, and teaching and learning in Politics and International Relations.

Jeremy is deeply involved in enhancing the teaching and learning environment at York University. He has been awarded funding for and completed research projects on first-generation students’ experiences within Higher Education, student conceptions of teaching innovation, and the experiences of students that study abroad or undertake a year-in-industry placement. He is currently undertaking funded work on the identification of achievement gaps in the Department, the pedagogy of degrowth, and assessment optionality. As well as undertaking teaching and research, Jeremy currently works as the Department’s Admissions Tutor, a role in which he has centred widening participation into Higher Education. In 2020, Jeremy received the ‘Supporting the Student Voice’ award at the University.

Jeremy holds a PhD from the University of Hull, supervised by Prof. Rüdiger Wurzel (School of Politics and International Studies) and Prof. David Gibbs (School of Environmental Sciences), for a thesis entitled ‘A Tale of Two Cities: Climate Action and Political Myth in the European Union.’

In 2023, Jeremy became a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (Advance HE).

Welcome, Jeremy!

Fungalovid-2025: Global Health Politics in IR

Inspired by Daniel Drezner’s Theories of International Politics and Zombies as well as too much TV watching, I have designed for my International Relations  and Popular Culture (IRPC) course a game called Fungalovid-2025. The scholarship of IRPC understands the role of popular culture as both a reflection of international politics but also as a learning device that informs our expectations of political crises.  Fungalovid-2025 confronts my students with a global pandemic and demands of them to formulate in country groups a 2-month and a 12-month plan on how their country will proceed with handling the outbreak. Their choices and behaviors are informed by reading World War Z by Max Brooks, by our previous class discussions, living through their own pandemic, and in varying degrees their personal engagement with zombie-themed popular culture goods. This game is not only great for IRPC, probably a niche area for many, but it also works in introductory classes on international relations to illustrate socially constructed realities, international cooperation, and self-interested policymaking.

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A Crowdsourced IR Playlist

A new guest post by Dr. Summer Marion from Bentley University, Waltham, MA:

Since Fall 2022, I have taught ten sections of Internationals Relations at Bentley University. Each semester, I experiment with integrating music into my curriculum as a means of both encouraging my students to apply abstract concepts in their everyday lives, and better understanding what IR means to them. Inspired by others’ impressive IR playlists, I take a slightly different approach from faculty who have curated their own lists to share with students in class. I challenge students to: 1) expand and improve my taste in music, and more importantly 2) contribute to making IR more relevant to their generation by proposing songs of their own for a small amount of extra credit on the final exam. Students brainstorm songs that they enjoy listening to and find relevant to a topic covered in class over the course of the semester. They then share their songs alongside a brief explanation in our class discussion forum. I encourage students to submit songs as we cover each topic, but final submissions are not due until the end of the semester. I occasionally play a student submission to kick off a new topic at the beginning of class, inviting students to discuss and share their thinking.

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Wargaming for Learning: A robust examination of how educational gaming adds value to traditional instructional techniques

My latest article is out in Journal of Political Science Education and I’m excited to share it with ALPS readers. Alongside Dr. Lisa Kerr, also at the Naval War College, we set out to do a robust examination of whether educational gaming is worth the extra time it takes; in other words, do students learn more by playing a game (in this case, a bespoke war-game called War at Sea) when they’ve already encountered the material through traditional methods of learning such as reading, lecture, and discussion of a case study? Our research says yes.

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Podcasting in Class: Course planning for Spring 2024

As the semester winds down and final grading is in progress, I am looking ahead towards the Spring 2024 semester, when I will be teaching International Relations & Popular Culture for the first time. It is both a nerdy interest niche of mine, but I also think that field of popular culture is expanding, gaining more grounds, and operating as something relatable to our students. So, I guess – be prepared to see more of that type of content in the new year.

I have decided to incorporate a semester-long podcasting project as the students’ main research project, in which they will produce a public-facing piece of research. I imagine this is the first time most of my students will be engaging with such a project. But this is also a new assignment for me, and I am both excited and wondering what hurdles I haven’t thought of yet. I am building this on a previous guest post by John McMahon (2021) and his APSA Educate resource. Below, I have outlined the overall premise. What wisdom do you have to turn this project into something that can rival Joe Rogan’s podcasting dominance?

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Anxiety, excellence, and reflexivity in the classroom

Today we have a new guest post. Last month Roxani Krystalli published an article on teaching and learning reflexivity in the world politics classroom. In this blog post, she discusses some of the anxieties that arise when embracing reflexive pedagogies and articulates her hopes for what reflexive inquiry with and about the natural world may make possible.

A few weeks ago I gave three lectures as part of the required introductory module to international relations that all 500+ students who study this subject must enrol in during their first year. Colleagues in the department, which draws together scholars from a range of disciplines, co-teach this module, meaning that we are each responsible for a themed week every semester. My lectures centred on the theme of ‘the environment,’ prompting students to reflect on what counts as environmental knowledge, what forms this knowledge takes, how we can meaningfully get to know our environments, and what all these forms of knowledge might have to do with political action.

I find it difficult to teach—not just ‘about’ the environment, but about anything at all—in the abstract. I prefer teaching ‘with,’ rather than ‘about.’ Teaching with the environment, in this instance, involved making offerings of different ways to ground ourselves in place as teachers, students, and learners. My favourite offerings are questions, each paving one path for engaging with the world. I asked the students to recall how they began to learn the trees, birds, or clouds near their home when they were children. I asked them to consider whether they would recognise the geese that regularly fly over St Andrews, or how they might get to know the flowers that bloom here, even if they did not know that the birds honking overhead were pink-footed geese and even if they could not name the specific flowers.

The birds honking overhead were pink-footed geese

Beyond recalling and considering, I invited students to spend some time outside, noticing, wondering, paying attention. They could, if they wanted, download an app that helps them identify birdsong, or name plants, or they could take a walk with someone who knows this environment well. They could focus on one sense over others: What does West Sands beach smell like? I encouraged them to think about the environments that are dear to them here in St Andrews and then to focus on getting to know one aspect of those environments. What would getting to know the trees look like, and how might that change their—our—education and experience of politics?

Many students are at once intrigued and overwhelmed by these offerings, which I consider to be part of an approach to teaching and learning that encourages reflexivity, though I am more interested in the practice than the label. The fascination with the world beyond the classroom is perhaps obvious, and the overwhelm stems from realising how little knowledge (let alone language) some of us have for the features of that world. How did a politics and international relations education come to be devoid of geese honking, and where might we begin to put the honks back in?

When I consider this question, I bump up against the anxieties of performance. It helps, yet again, to be specific. Much inquiry – in the Q&A following lectures, in tutorials, in Office Hours – begins and ends with assessments: “Can you help us answer the set essay question for the team-taught module?” “If I want to argue X, would that be okay? Would that be enough?” The question at the heart of such inquiry is “how can I do this well?”

This is a question I know intimately, and one I simultaneously worry about. I worry about the questions that this form of inquiry displaces, the birds we do not hear when we direct anxiety towards the essay instead. The anxieties of excellence were drilled into my own encounters with educational expectations, starting at too young an age. When teaching students for whom the question of “how can I do this well?” is an urgent one, I feel a sense of empathy—and a simultaneous desire to set this question aside, or at least to consider it alongside the other questions that make so many of these students (and their teachers) anxious in this era: How can we live together and enable life amidst so many sources of violence, grief, and threat to life?

It is possible to carry the overwhelming (there is that word again!) magnitude of this question alongside worries about performance. (Telling someone not to worry about performance or excellence is akin to telling a distressed person to “calm down,” a plea that rarely has the desired effect). My hope is that reflexive offerings in the classroom—invitations that ground people in their environments, in their bodies and senses and relations—widen the scope of what we notice and direct attention and care towards. Locating ourselves in place and in the body, in the senses and in the world, may actually broaden, than relieve, sources of anxiety. But it also offers us potential forms of companionship and ways of sense-making that can make it possible to imagine different ways of living and relating in an aching world.

Roxani Krystalli is a Lecturer at the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews. She is currently the co-Principal Investigator of a research project on the politics of love and care in the wake of loss.

Thanksgiving Duck and Running Large Classroom Games

First, what is everyone thankful for this year? Share your comments! 🙂

I’m thankful for my family, working with great colleagues, and the two ducks thawing in my fridge. My wife and I have never liked turkey, and aside from trying turducken (too dry) and goose (expensive duck) once each, we’ve roasted up two ducks every Thanksgiving since 1996. My wife loves post-Thanksgiving sandwiches the best, where she layers duck, stuffing, and cranberry sauce between two thick-cut slices of buttered and lightly toasted bread. The look she gets on her face with the first bite is best described as rated PG-13.

Next Wednesday, I kick off Cold Winter, my end-of-course exercise for POLS 131: Current World Problems (think intro to IR and CP for non-political science majors). POLS 131 sections range from 100 to 200 students, so it’s quite a handful to run even with my TAs and ~2 student assistants. Students form six-person teams early in the semester and design a state, IGO, or NGO using the DIME model (diplomacy, intelligence/information, military, economic). It is straightforward for the state teams, but the IGO and NGO teams must think creatively about how the model fits their structures (for example, economic for an NGO might mean how they solicit donations, and military might mean how they hire security). Aside from using real-world cities for their state capitals or headquarters, the teams otherwise create everything from scratch (albeit they can use real states, IGOs, and NGOs for inspiration).

Discord sreenshot from a previous Cold Winter exercise

During the exercise, the teams react to an evolving international crisis. It’s usually a zombie apocalypse, but I’ve run it with evil robots, too (at some point, I’ll use vampires or werewolves). Why a speculative crisis? It encourages students to think outside the box without preconceived notions and avoids partisanship associated with real-world issues. I know how the scenario starts, but I improvise the rest based on how teams react and apply course concepts. It’s four days of absolute chaos, but feedback from previous semesters suggests that the students love it–it makes the course material come alive.

I use Discord to manage the game, which is fantastic for running large and specific events (in contrast, I don’t like using Discord for day-to-day communication). I set up channels for each team, a news and intelligence channel where I post scenario updates, a request for information channel for teams to ask questions, and a white cell channel just for myself and my assistants. I deputize my TAs and student assistants to adjudicate questions and events as they circulate around the room, which I then add to the scenario. Even with students using Discord, the room is a raucous cacophony of shouting and hustling students.

Students are not graded on their in-game performance; rather, they submit an after-action report essay in which they reflect on their team’s strategies, failures, and successes. This way, they can take risks during the game without worrying about grades.

I’d love to write this up for, say, the Journal of Political Science Education or International Studies Perspectives, but the hard part is conveying the improvisation required. I can teach someone how to build the exercise, but I don’t know how to teach someone how to be a dungeon master (it’s a skill I picked up over many years. That, and I don’t get stage fright). I’m open to suggestions and a co-author on the subject of improv!

Using the “World Climate Simulation” in Class

When teaching International Relations, the issue of climate change is unavoidable. I found myself a couple of semesters ago in a position where I got frustrated about my stale lecture on this issue. Climate change is man-made, the world is one fire, and our students are experiencing it daily. How can I add to this in class without just shouting “look at the data”?

The internet came to the rescue: I found the “World Climate Simulation”, a role-playing game from Climate Interactive (MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative; UMass Lowell Climate Change Initiative). I will forego, explaining the simulation in detail, because the simulation’s website is exhaustive enough, and I would end up simply copying what they already explain. Instead, I will briefly go through some key points and considerations that I have, after conducting the simulation now three times in different learning environments.

C-Roads Interactive Climate Change Simulation Dashboard

  1. The purpose of the simulation is that country and region representatives (i.e., the United States or Other Developing Nations) come to an agreement to lower and slow down the warming of the globe. The simulation illustrates that if all countries around the world won’t change any of their behavior by 2100, the global temperature will increase by 3.3 C, which will have detrimental and irreversible effects on human existence and the global biodiversity. Negotiations and discussions between the global players aim to bring the rate to below 2 C.
    1. The simulation provides character sheets for each country/region. They are adaptable to class size (I use six; but that is not necessary).Students must make decisions on when their country/region will reach peak emission rates, when/if they will reduce emission levels, by how much, and whether they will support afforestation and prevent deforestation (and at what rate).
    1. The simulation also provides great slides that allow you, as the educator, to set the scene.
  2. I pair the simulation with two readings/media:
    1. Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons”An episode of the New York Times Daily Podcast (“Who pays the bill for climate change?”, 2022).
    1. With both of these, students are exposed to both the ideas of free riding, collective action, and inherent conflicts regarding the responsibility to tackle climate change.
      1. Based on these readings, I add two specific incentives for the students throughout the simulation:
        1. If they can change the trajectory of climate warming by 2100 to below 2 C, the entire class gets 1 Extra Credit Point.
        1. The group that commits the least will get an additional Extra Credit Point.
  3. Depending on how long your class sessions are, you can easily adapt and change the simulation to your needs.
    1. My broad structure is:
      1. I email character sheets out prior to meeting, urging them not to share their sheets with others.Class begins with a first initial meeting within the groups to establish who they are, what their country is doing, and what is feasible in terms of their own commitments to slow down climate change.As a group we collect in the interactive dashboard (see picture above) all of our countries/regions initial commitments, assessing by how much/if at all we were able to change the trajectory of climate warming.Then, the student groups briefly strategize, and then they disperse to speak to other groups to move the needle in any direction.
        1. Depending on how much time you have, you can do multiple negotiation rounds.
        After the negotiations, we collect again in the dashboard feasible commitments, and evaluate where we are.
      1. We debrief. This includes asking questions about how they felt getting the initial tasks, how the negotiations went, and discussing why it is difficult to make any global agreements on climate change.
  4. Thoughts on how the simulations have gone so far:
    1. The more time you can dedicate to it the better. I have played around with different structures anywhere between 60 minutes to 2 hours, and obviously, the longer session had better discussions/negotiations.
    1. In most cases, students will find that balancing national interests vs. global commitments is quite difficult. Countries tend to be selfish, and no one wants to make the biggest contributions right away. The debrief is key here, because it allows you to combine the students’ experiences with the readings and illustrate the thinking/obstacles that exist in global politics to overcome transnational problems.
    1. Take the time to walk around while the students are negotiating. They take it seriously, and the things they say to one another are both profound and amusing at times!