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!

Talking about contentious politics, again

Yet again, we find ourselves confronted over the past week by a highly contentious set of political events that simultaneously a) need and require us to analyse and discuss them and b) need and require us to be mindful of how difficult that is to do without people finding and taking offence in the way we do that.

As someone with absolutely no research expertise or teaching activity relating to Israel-Palestine, those challenges are less than they might be for you (although my session on French politics last week did drift more than once onto the topic).

Here at ALPS Blog, we’ve been going long enough to have considered this at various points. As much as each case is specific, we do have some pieces that might prove useful for you to read and draw on.

There’s also a growing literature for you to explore on all of this.

And as always, if you’ve found something else that works – or have found that these ideas don’t work – then we’d love to hear from you, either in the comments or with a guest post.

What does the ideal Politics/International Relations degree look like?

Today we have a guest post by Dr Stephen Thornton from Cardiff University asking for input from our community on what the ‘ideal’ Politics/International Relations degree looks like. Please do give us your thoughts, ideas, recommended readings and so on in the comments. We would love to publish any guest posts in response to Stephen’s questions – just get in touch if you’re interested. We also had the idea of holding a event to have a conversation about this question in partnership with the UCL Centre for the Pedagogy of Politics: let us know if this would be useful to you and if you’d like to take part.

Having shown interest in pedagogic matters, it had to happened. The knock on the door from the head of department, the usual pleasantries, and then the inevitable question/plea: ‘Stephen, you know that the various Politics and International Relations undergraduate degrees are coming up for revalidation next year. So, well, erm, I just wonder if …?’.

All universities will have a similar process, whether it’s called revalidation or major programme/curriculum review or whatever. The general idea is to pick over existing degree programmes to determine that their structure, content and delivery reach an acceptable level of academic quality. The process also calls for evidence that there is some kind of strategy behind the constellation of modules that constitute each degree for which the department is responsible, and that this strategy aligns sufficiently with the published principles of the wider university. There is also expectation that things will change in ways that ensure alignment with the university’s strategic direction and likely improve student experience.  

And so, a challenging bureaucratic adventure awaits the poor soul foolish enough to agree to lead any revalidation process. Yet, for all the inevitable woe that awaits, at least part of me is excited. It will provide an opportunity to reflect on our various degrees and work out whether they can be reconfigured to provide an even better experience for the students.

These are just some of the issues with which I anticipate we’ll be wrestling:

  • No department can teach everything but Politics/International Relations (IR) is a discipline that spreads far and wide, so what is the best balance between general coverage and more specialist focus?
  • What is the best mix of core/optional modules? (Which prompts an extra question about whether there are aspects of the discipline that are fundamental)
  • Where do study skills fit within the curriculum?
  • How best do we incorporate employability (loosely-defined) effectively into the curriculum?
  • What is the best mix of team-taught and sole-taught modules? 
  • Are modules best taught in short, fairly intense bursts, say over just one semester (or shorter), or at a more leisurely pace over the entire academic year?
  • Is there an optimum balance of learning experiences that can arranged in a framework based around the traditional lecture/seminar model?
  • What role should technology play?
  • Is there an ideal mix of assessments (particularly in the age of ChatGPT)?
  • Should an end of degree independent research project and/or capstone project be compulsory?
  • Whither joint honours degrees?

To help with the task of answering these (and other) questions, by providing something to aim for, I’m trying to imagine what the ideal Politics/IR degree would look like. From a UK perspective, the excellent Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) subject benchmark statements for Politics and International Relations provide a useful background sketch for this idealised portrait, and I have some ideas of my own (as will the rest of the revalidation team), but I would welcome opinions, suggestions, ideas and examples from the informed and experienced readers of this fine blog series to help flesh out the picture – and insight about any likely Rumsfeldian ‘unknown unknowns’ about this revalidation process would be handy too.

I am aware, in the brutal boxing match of real life, that any ideal degree programme abstractly constructed will be punched hard and repeatedly in the imaginary face by the constraints that exist within the university environment, but some initial vision – no matter how disfigured by reality it comes to be – is better than none at all.

Using ‘Oppenheimer’ in the classroom

In other thermonuclear news…

This week, to make up for the end of my holiday, I went to see Oppenheimer. It’s a great piece of film-making and as impressive a movie as I’ve watched for quite some time. Plus the movie theatre was packed, which was nice.

Of course, you can take the pedagogue out of the classroom, etc. etc., so my thoughts now turn to the question of whether and how you might use a film that there’s a pretty good chance your students have actually watched to support their learning.

[Two spoilers: first, I’m thinking Barbie has a lot more potential (and I’ve not yet seen that); second, the rest of this contains some Oppenheimer spoilers, but frankly if you’re not across most of the story already then [shrug emoji]]

Oppenheimer is focused on the internal dilemmas of the titular character, torn between the urgent need to understand the new domain of quantum physics and the clear-eyed calculation of what a nuclear bomb does, both immediately and for human society.

As a discourse on the larger human tension between ‘can we do it’ and ‘should we do it’ it’s highly stimulating and rather emotional.

But that’s not super-easy to fit into a political science/IR programme, because it’s more moral philosophy than anything else.

Yes, we have some rudimentary running-through of the ‘the Bomb will save lives by avoiding a ground invasion of Japan’ argument but precisely because the focus is on Oppenheimer himself, rather than on the political-military calculation to use the weapons, there’s not really enough to hang a full-on discussion on.

However, what was potentially more productive for our present range of needs was the portrayal of institutional logics. More precisely, civil-military relations and the role of individual agency within institutional frameworks.

The illusion of solidity

The film sets up very nicely how an emergent field of science builds international networks and exchanges of ideas, where ideas are tested and re-tested and shared. It highlights how knowledge is constructed and bounded and how we have to meld theory with practice to make advances and understand what we understand.

The arrival of hostilities collapses much of that into a securitised logic, where sharing is A Bad Thing and where it matters more than you beat the Others. Even if the compartmentalisation at Los Alamos is depicted as pretty entry level (even before the arrival of Klaus Fuchs), the difference in basic approach to the endevour is clear to see: do you optimise for progress or for security?

The pervasive anti-communist note throughout the movie is also interesting here, with Nazi Germany frequently treated as less of a threat than the USSR, even at the start of the Manhattan Project. We might see this as a parallel to the levels of scientific progress: the Bomb is one part of a wider project in the tussle between Einsteinian relativity and the quantum world, even as the A Bomb is already being swallowed up by the H Bomb.

The navigation of the two logics is articulated through Oppenheimer, “more politician than scientist” in the words of one colleague, and it bears reflection on how politics is a space in which we repeatedly have to do this.

To take one example, it’s clear that once the scientists have made a working weapon, then they open the door to a more purely industrialised process of producing further weapons. Their success is also their downfall, the punching of the ticket to being kicked out for all the foibles and problems that were overlooked when the war effort needed them. But does that stop them? Of course not, partly for scientific glory, but also partly because they are coopted into the logic of “if we don’t do it to them, then they’ll do it to us”.

“This isn’t a trial”

Which is a good point to swing over to the agency aspect.

Oppenheimer is a film about people with things to prove. Mostly that’s about proving their ideas are right, but it’s not insignificantly about people proving that they’ve not forgotten being humiliated. To call the relationship between Oppenheimer and Lewis Strauss messed-up would be an understatement, given both men’s resolve to hold deep, deep grudges against each other for many years.

The film explores this at much length and opens up a lot of space for various characters to demonstrate how they work within assorted institutional constraints.

Whether it’s Senate confirmation hearings, or the disciplinary action against Oppenheimer, or the flaunting of directions on compartmentalisation, we repeatedly get the message that while we can build procedures and rules, we still cannot control human agency and the associated need/desire to break out of “what should happen”.

If you want to take that further, then just consider Oppenheimer’s personal life and his disregard for conventionalities about marriage, parenting or killing your teachers.

Yes, the director is also making a point about Oppenheimer’s science as being a revolution and stepping into a new world, but it does illuminate a critical question in institutionalism, namely the limits to institutional power.

18 years later…

As a postscript, I ended up watching Thirteen Days soon after Oppenheimer, partly because I enjoy actors destroying Boston accents and partly because everyone else was out.

Obviously it’s a very different kind of film, at all levels, but it was striking how the nuclear threat and its existential challenges are shifted from the the period covered by Oppenheimer. In less than two decades, the debate moves from one of Oppenheimer’s hope for a “a great peace” to a hair-trigger crisis wherein quite a lot of (military) decision-makers are cool about bouncing into nuclear exchanges.

Yes, the horror of nuclear war still hangs, but it is much more bounded and internalised. I leave it to you to consider how much that is the case today.

Neo-Colonialism Mini-Card Game UPDATED

Tim (left)

This guest post comes from Tim Ruback, University of Southern Maine.

To introduce neocolonialism and postcolonialism to students in my Intro IR Class, I created a mini-game, which can be run in a single class session. The purpose of the game is to get students to think about the ways that colonial and imperial histories still are relevant, especially when it comes to disparities of power and wealth. It also is meant to encourage them to ask questions about systems and institutions that seem, on the surface, to be fair and equitable — and to explore how systemic inequalities can be hidden within seemingly-neutral approaches to maintaining international order. You can find the complete game and its rules here

The game requires 4 or more visually-distinct decks of cards and a giant bag of candy (I used Jolly Ranchers). Each deck represents a different nation state, with the cards representing resources they have. The decks also reflect three different relationships to colonial power. One was a former imperial power. Two are newly-independent states, former colonies of the imperial power. One was neither.

At the start of class, I put the students into small groups, and invited each group to send a member to the front to select their deck of cards. Students expect each box to contain a full deck of cards. But they are not equivalent. Before class, I ‘stacked the decks’ by taking cards away from the former colonies, and putting them in the former empire’s deck. These cards represent the material wealth extracted during the colonial era.  

In brief, the card game takes us through decolonization and into the present day. The game has two phases, each with multiple rounds, reflecting the two eras. For each round, groups are given a task to complete. Typical tasks include reorganizing the deck, or putting together specific cards to form a hand. Successful completion of each task earns Jolly Ranchers (JRs). I tell them they want to earn as many as possible, but each group needs at least 25 (and should aspire to at least 100) JRs. Groups can trade cards for candy, or borrow candy from the World Bank (the instructor) in order to trade for the cards they need. Having the right cards is essential to earn JRs and win the game.

The first part of the game takes place during decolonization. The purpose of these rounds is to establish the ways in which colonial histories advantage some groups over others during the age of decolonization. In this part, students are told that they are preparing their economies so that they can compete in a global marketplace. The early rounds ask students to display all the jokers in their deck, or to organize their deck by suit, from low to high. The group with the former empire discovers that their deck is already organized. They also find they have extra jokers (and other cards), taken from other decks, which earns them additional JRs. The former colonies discover that their decks are disorganized, and important cards are missing. After the first rounds, the former empire has already won most of the candy they need and the former colonies have only a few candies each. 

Importantly, the extraction of cards happens before the game begins. The students with the imperial deck did not, themselves, take those resources from the other decks; they inherited those resources. Nevertheless, because these early rounds have lasting effects — including penalties and bonuses that carry over throughout the rest of the game — students witness how these early advantages pile up. They must reckon with the consequences of actions which took place before their time.

The last rounds in part I set up the remainder of the game. In these rounds, they’re given two hands of 3 cards each (such as: Red 4 + 6❤️ + J🔸) and are told these hands represent products they can export to the global market. Students earn JRs for each product they create. These initial products are designed with extracted cards so that the former empire can build multiple hands, and the former colonies cannot build all of them. Those who cannot build the products, but have some cards, can earn a lesser amount of Jolly Ranchers for raw materials. 

In part II, each round has the same basic gameplay: groups try to assemble as many products (specific 3 card hands) as possible. They earn candy for each product, and lesser amounts for raw materials. But there’s one big change! The instructor doesn’t dictate the hands that make up the products. That’s up to the groups. Initially, the group with the most Jolly Ranchers will decide which cards will create the round’s products. After that, the group that earns the most JR in the round determines the products for the next round. 

It should be immediately apparent to all that the former empire will be first to set the rules. This group has the opportunity to dictate conditions that will allow them to remain in that role. But soon, agreement is required to set the round’s product combinations. Initially, the group in charge needs to get one group to support their proposed products. Soon, a majority is needed. By the last rounds, products require consensus. 

Ultimately, the last rounds are more egalitarian than the first rounds were. But the advantage that the former empire had in the early rounds carries over, and the net result yields continued inequality — even when all groups are formally equal and consensus is required. 

AFTER THE GAME: DEBRIEF

In the complete game, I include a set of debrief questions which can get the conversation started. These questions start with practical observations about the game and its outcomes. Then they turn to prompts intended to help students develop explanations of why the game unfolded as it did. These include questions like:

  •  What did you discover when you first opened your deck?
  • There is a large disparity between the group with the most candy, and those with the least. How do we explain this?
  • Do groups that possess cards which were originally from another group’s deck have any obligations toward those other groups? Why or why not?
  • Is colonialism a thing of the past?

Here are some ideas that came up in my class debrief discussion:

  1. After consensus was required, the game became fairer. But outcomes were never equitable, primarily due to the extraction of resources prior to when the game began. This opened to a discussion of how closely global political economies need to mirror colonial systems in order to be deemed neo-colonial. Does continued extraction matter? Is perpetuating the gap enough? 
  2. In my class, the former empire became embarrassed about the piles of JRs they amassed. They offered some of their JRs to others. As we discussed this, we noticed:
    1. Every group refused to accept JRs from the former empire. When asked why, the answer was something like  “I don’t want their charity. They only have all those JRs, because they have our cards.”
    2. The former empire offered JRs, but did not offer to give back the cards that they inherited from colonial extraction. When asked why, reasons ranged from “We might need those,” to “It didn’t occur to me.” They didn’t feel responsible for having taken those cards.
    3. When I asked the former colonies if they would have been willing to buy back the cards that were taken from them, they refused. They thought that the cards already rightly belonged to them.
    4. I use the Edkins & Zehfuss Global Politics textbook, and this entire part of the discussion dovetailed with Naeem Inayatullah’s chapter. Discussions about knowledge, difference, and power came to the fore.
  3. The wealthiest group remained in power for the entire second half of the game. They never proposed rules that would have given others the chance to make the rules. They thought the safest thing was to remain in charge — even when consensus was required.
  4. Groups refused loans from the World Bank because of the conditions attached. They had to repay with interest. They were obliged to accept any “reasonable” offers to sell their cards for JRs; the World Bank would decide whether an offer was reasonable. Students’ arguments against these conditions mirrored their readings on underdevelopment.
  5. Overall, the students determined that the game seemed fair. They chose their own decks. The rules were equally applied. Once consensus was required, outcomes improved for the former colonies. But because of the stacked decks and the early rounds, the game systematically advantaged some groups over others. The consequences of colonialism remained with us.

Ultimately, students enjoyed the game, and were able to make strong connections between the gameplay and the important ideas from their readings. But the game can be improved. Please adapt it for your purposes. In the downloadable game, I offer advice about ways you can tailor the game to best meet your needs, such as how to adapt it for a larger class. If you try something that works well, please let me know!

UPDATE 08 Nov 2023. Powerpoint slides with round-by-round rules are now also available here