Some of my teaching duties are in an undergraduate interdisciplinary major — Global Studies — that includes a required 100-level course pitched at first-year students called, conveniently, Introduction to Global Studies. The course, taught by a close colleague, is in part intended to attract students to the major. The problem? Few first-year students take it; those that do intended to major in Global Studies before arriving on campus. Junior and senior non-majors looking to pick up what they think will be an easy three credits needed for graduation often comprise a large portion of the class. To make matters worse, the number of students majoring in Global Studies is dwindling.
Giving the course a sexier title might increase first-year enrollment, so I thought I’d try crowd-sourcing ideas. Any suggestions? The first thing that popped into my head: Mocha, Marriage, and Markets. However, this title might not be suitable, given that the instructor is not a mail order bride.
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:
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?
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Alternative title for this post: What I Did Over Spring Break.
One of the benefits of having a joint appointment in an interdisciplinary department is being able to participate in field research initiatives. Two weeks ago, I was in Belize as a co-leader for a tropical biology course examining the effects of agricultural development on biodiversity. This was a great opportunity to observe and teach about intersections between economic development, environmental sustainability, and public policy — while getting one’s hands dirty among the scorpions, bats, snakes, and octopi.
A few random observations:
Undergraduate political science programs with curricula that exclude experiential learning in favor of scholasticism are really doing their students a disservice. Philosophical treatises are no longer the sole repository of knowledge.
American provincialism did manifest itself, but only occasionally and, in my opinion, innocuously. For example, as this blog’s non-U.S. audience probably already knows, my people are generally at a loss in non-English language environments. But despite English being the official language of Belize, it is English with a Belizean accent. And in everyday conversation among locals, Belizean Creole is used — often mixed with Spanish. Occasionally I asked students, “Did you understand that?” and their answer was “no.” I would then point out that American English is not the only form of English, and that they needed to train themselves for that reality. The few among us competent in Spanish definitely had an advantage when we encountered people who did not speak any version of English. For readers in the U.S., does your political science department require proficiency in a second language? It should. Politics are global.
I was impressed by the students’ willingness to try to independently solve problems on the fly while doing their research. They were also relatively unperturbed by the conditions. Maybe this is due to self-selection for this specific study abroad program, but whatever the reason, it made my job much easier.
In-country logistics ran like clockwork, mainly due to the talented local program organizer. It was only when returning to the USA, a Third World country, that we ran into problems — a flight delay, a mad scramble through Miami airport, a missed connecting flight, an interminable rebooking process, not all of us finding seats on the last flight of the day, and a portion of our group forced to overnight in an airport hotel. But everyone did return home in the end. Lesson to students: be prepared in case things don’t go according to plan.
Unfortunately, a lot of the people I follow on social media do think they are now specialists in warfare, diplomacy or the operations of civil nuclear facilities. These people were also once ‘experts’ in epidemiology, Brexit, macroeconomics, US presidential politics, populism, immigration and many other things besides.
I have my doubts.
This is probably also a problem you face as you try to make sense of the world around us: yes, you know some people who do actually really know stuff, but they get buried in a big pile of hot takes, motivated reasoning and even propaganda.
So what to do?
I’m guessing that Ukraine is an easier case for the readership of ALPS blog to handle, since it’s closer to many of our research interests: even if we don’t work on relevant topics ourselves, then we know the people who do and tap into their expertise.
Of course, as the whole Mearsheimer thing has shown in the past week, even very competent people come up with dubious positions, although you at least get lots of material for your next IR theory class.
(For my part, I’ve limited myself to working up the one element I do feel competent to speak on).
However, for your students this might still be at the edge of their knowledge, abilities and confidence, so how can we help them parse the situation?
For me, task number one has be a strong refresher on how to evaluate information (and it’ll be a refresher, because of course you teach this as a matter of course, right?).
That means making sure they understand the importance of verification, of triangulation, of expertise and of all the other things that we have probably internalised over the years. If we running a class that needed to engage with this I’d be asking students to locate good guides to how to do this, then pulling them together into a master document that they can all use for their subsequent research.
For as fluid as case as an active conflict, information is incomplete and often contradictory, so giving students the tools to determine what they know and what it means is essential. The growing OSINT community is a really good starting point for looking at the operational end of things, while the more strategic reasoning requires engagement with those working in a number of different domains, including Russian politics, military doctrine and sanctions.
As we’ve seen in recent years with whatever crisis you care to imagine, there is a huge potential to access properly informed and well-evidenced specialists on any given topic. But that means cutting through the guff and being able to contextualise what we read.
And that’s a great life-skill to be developing in our students, regardless.
Today we have a guest post from Andre Audette of the Department of Political Science at Monmouth College. He can be contacted at aaudette [at] monmouthcollege [dot] edu.
When the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly pushed my classes online, I had to scramble to find ways to incorporate active learning into my online instruction. A unit on ethnocentrism, racism, and religious intolerance in my Religion and Politics course was particularly challenging—a fraught subject even with careful planning for in-person classes, but potentially even more divisive in our current internet culture. I decided to give students a unique “brand challenge.”
Posing it to my students as a replacement for the cancelled March Madness basketball tournament, I took an empty “Sweet 16” bracket and filled it in with classic brand competitions: Coke vs. Pepsi, Apple vs. Microsoft, Netflix vs. Disney+, etc. I asked students to comment in a discussion forum about which of their preferred brands should advance to the next round and why. I accompanied this with a video of myself in a sports hoodie offering brief commentary on each of the “matches.”
After a few days of discussion, the “Elite 8” round got even more interesting with pairings like Ford vs. Kate Middleton, Taco Bell vs. Google Chrome, and Target vs. Netflix. Student comments started centering on which brands were “more American” or have better values or were most familiar and useful to them.
By the time we got to the theoretical discussion of ethnocentrism, we had a personal, real-life example of how the students in my class divide their consumer choices into in-groups and out-groups. A similar attraction or aversion to consumer brands, I argued, applies to our interactions with other social groups. Over time, we learn to divide the world into different groups of people (“Coke people” vs. “Pepsi people”), psychologically attach ourselves to our chosen groups, and defend those groups, even when our rationale for doing so is limited or based on bias or stereotypes.
From my vantage point, this activity served the dual purpose of engaging students while preparing them for the difficult conversations about tolerance to come. We were then able to have meaningful discussions about why some religious groups are not represented in American politics, how perceived religious threat affects peoples’ choices, and how religious “brands” compete in the religious marketplace. I believe that in important part of preparing students to have these conversations is allowing them to experience some of the psychology and emotions that drive our political and social behaviors.
Early empirical studies in American politics were derived from the disciplines of advertising and marketing. The brand challenge activity draws from this tradition and could work well to teach about a variety of social identities and psychological processes. For example, it may help students think about models of partisanship and how individuals interact with party brands. It could also be a useful activity for encouraging students to think about how politics affects our lifestyle choices and the extent to which politics exists in our everyday lives.
Sometimes you discover something completely unexpected about how people perceive the world.
Back in February, students in my globalization course read the items below and wrote a response to “Is global trade a zero sum game — a process that causes some people to get poorer while others get richer? Why?”
Daron Acemoglu, “Economic Inequality and Globalization,” Brown Journal of World Affairs 13, 1 (Fall/Winter 2006).
Joseph Stiglitz, “The Globalization of Our Discontent,” Project Syndicate, 5 December 2017.
Branko Milanovic, “Why the Global 1% and the Asian Middle Class Have Gained the Most from Globalization,” Harvard Business Review Digital Articles, 13 May 2016.
Nearly the entire class wrote that global trade is a zero sum game. In class, students advocated for trade barriers.
Some final thoughts on my globalization course this semester:
First, the community partnership with a local non-profit organization might have worked better in a research methods course. Because I structure my courses around daily reading and writing assignments, they are effectively hybrid in design. Initial encounters with and applications of knowledge happen outside the classroom. This makes it easier for to cut content from a course if needed, and in a community partnership, something planned before the semester begins always needs to be abandoned midstream.
As I mentioned in Part 4 and Part 5 of this series, this time around the ethnography assignment was what got left by the side of the road. But my decision was driven by the lack of quality data gathered by students, not because the time that students spent working on behalf of the community partner was greater than expected. I knew going into the course that I would not be creating a bunch of Margaret Meads, but the classroom instruction on field interviewing did not produce the level of proficiency necessary to complete an assignment that students had never before encountered.
A lack of facility in working with data also showed up in the infographic assignments that replaced the ethnography. Students’ infographics included percentages calculated from the data they had collected, but the percentages often did not reflect informative observations about local patterns of food consumption.
Though this course was 100-level, the students in it ranged from first-year to seniors. So the lessons here for me are, first, that I should not assume that the students who enroll in this course have any prior training in working with data, and second, that a project of this nature requires a full semester devoted to teaching research skills, not a brief introduction to it wedged into a course whose focus is on acquiring topical knowledge. In sum, I tried to do too much within the confines of a single course.
Second, if I think students should gain a better understanding of community, I need to do a better job of getting them to define and work with the concept. The maps of the local community that students drew at the end of the semester did not vary much from the maps they drew at the beginning, and their discussion of community in the end-of-semester meta-cognitive assignment was often unfocused. To be fair, I now think the prompt I created for the assignment was itself needlessly complex — one of my bad habits.
So, as usual, when I teach this course again next year, it will be back to the drawing board for more changes.
Another update, this time in relation to the Place Making Essay discussed in Part 2 of this series —
To backtrack a bit, and provide some context I probably should have supplied in Part 1, the objectives of this course are to:
Introduce students to concepts and methods used by social scientists and others to explain globalization.
Develop the skills needed to understand complex problems related to global interconnectedness.
Students’ essays did, with varying degrees of success, thoughtfully respond to the assignment’s two prompts:
How does the process by which an object is made affect its ability to create a sense of place for people who use that object?
Has globalization altered the meaning of places or of the objects within them? Why? If so, how have meanings changed?
I did not see much discussion about the ways in which globalization affects communities, in the sense of “place making.” In retrospect, this is another example of me assuming, incorrectly, that students will follow ideas down the rabbit hole like I do — examining the more nebulous systemic implications of narrowly-defined events. If I use this assignment in the future, I might change the prompt to something like:
People assign meanings to the physical spaces they use. How do these meanings change when built environments and the objects within them are globalized? How are people’s spatial interactions affected? Do communities benefit? Why?
Despite horizons in students’ writing that were narrower than I would have liked, I think the essay unexpectedly hit my second course objective, through the interaction with students in the ART 202 course and the IYRS Digital Materials and Fabrication program. These interactions required students in my course to communicate effectively with complete strangers who had, in many cases, unfamiliar perspectives and different goals. A prerequisite for learning how to solve problems that arise from global interconnectedness is actually connecting with people who are different, and that happened in this assignment.
As I mentioned in my last post about changes to my globalization course, my original plan of assigning an ethnography in conjunction with a project for a community partner no longer seemed likely to serve its intended purpose, so I removed it mid-semester. As a replacement, I have assigned students the task of creating infographics, first individually, and then in teams of four. I will turn over the latter products to the community partner as one of the deliverables from the project. Directions for the individual assignment are as follows: Continue reading “Changing a Course on Globalization, Part 5”