Susherwood…!

It’s the last morning of TLC, but I’m not going to be there because of flight commitments (and I’m sulking about getting beaten by Amanda in Innovation last night). As last time, it’s been such a rich experience that I want to start working through the many points I’ve built up already now.

However, the first thing is to echo Chad’s point that is has been immensely gratifying to meet so many people who read this blog. I’ll admit, it’s a bit (i.e. a lot) creepy to have someone you’ve never met before turn around, their eyes widen and then whisper “it’s susherwood!” in a general air of disbelief – but it’s also really cool.

From my perspective, as the old world anchor of the ALPS group, I don’t get to interact in the same way with them (or you, our global audience notwithstanding) and so most of my contribution comes from the little conversations in my head. To have time and space to talk to a room full of people is amazingly helpful for me.

It’s also just so good to know that people read the stuff we do, because we simply don’t get a sense of that otherwise (well, I don’t, at least). Several people have said to me and the others how useful and/or stimulating some of our posts have been and that’s great, but also a bit frustrating, because I know I would like to be in on those conversations you have. The reason is simply that even with the work we’ve done, we’re still learning too and it’s in the interactions that we can advance our practice.

A meme recently, indicating how many years this joke has been going on already

So please do comment on our posts and/or volunteer entire posts, since it can only help us all. Those of you we met will know that we don’t bite, that Chad really does have a wife, that Kim Kardashian memes don’t always travel well and that we struggle to organise a meal out together. Only you can help.

In the coming days/weeks, I hope I can build on some of the conversations and thoughts I’ve had here in Long Beach. These are going to include (you’ll note I’m doing what I did last week with building in commitments):

    • How far should we design simulations to the specific characteristics of students, as compared to pushing them out of comfort zones? (following the Sims 1 track);
    • What do we need to know in order to successfully share a simulation? (Amanda);
    • The importance of affective buy-in as an outcome of simulations, alongside improvements in assessment performance (Marsha Lyle-Gonga);
    • Simulations as a reflection of designer preoccupations (Michael Lyons);
    • Reality versus abstraction in simulation design(our TLC workshop);
    • Potential new simulations on the EU (Amy Forster Rothbart), preparation and fantasy drafts (Dave Bridge) and collective decision-making (Taiyi Sun).

But you can and should ask us to address points too: we certainly don’t know it all and there’s plenty we don’t even think to question or discuss.

So thank you once again for making this worthwhile and we look forward to hearing from you all soon. And not just “Susherwood…!”

What Is Political Science

Michael Brintnall, APSA executive director, talked to TLC attendees earlier today about the need for those who teach politics to act with a disciplinary voice in shaping the undergraduate political science curriculum. Historically, decisions about what a student should learn about the practice and analysis of politics have been left to individual departments and faculty. However, our students are increasingly cobbling together their college educations from a variety of institutions and professors. Without systematic agreement on what constitutes a minimally sufficient baseline of political knowledge, it’s more likely that students will leave college with significant gaps in their understanding.

I find this subject particularly relevant — I work at a university in which political science majors are not required to take a course in comparative politics or international relations. Since majors aren’t required to take these courses, many of them don’t. I can guess that similar situations exist at other institutions.

Game Saturation?

In the mix of day two at TLC 2013. Hundreds of amazing ideas and new games to play. Nevertheless, we are 48 hours into the sims marathon and I’m feeling a little overwhelmed.. winning & losing, grading & assessing…. the exhaustion leaves me with a single question…

Is it in our specific intent to convert so many to active learning that each class day for our students is entirely about games, simulations, critical thinking, development of problem-based learning…. is there a chance we could over-saturate them?

Putting your money where your mouth is

One of the more useful realisations in my professional life has been that my practice often advances best when I put myself in a somewhat awkward position. Thus, by committing to a conference paper, for instance, I lock myself into producing work that otherwise might stay little more than a latent idea in my head. In short, my sense of social obligation can be hijacked, especially by myself.

And so it has been with APSA TLC, which runs this week in Long Beach, CA. I’ve written and posted my paper,  and prepared my part of the short course, and generally tried to be a good citizen.

However, in the writing of the paper I came to the conclusion that one of the things that would be potentially useful to new users of simulations was a simulation on designing simulations (nb that sentence makes more sense if you read the paper): by getting people to actively engage with the difficulties of designing simulations, they would better understand them and come to recognise how to overcome them.

Having put this out there, I now find myself feeling in some way obliged to try and make that simulation, to demonstrate its viability (rather than simply leaving it as an abstracted thought). Indeed, the act of writing this blog further suggests to me that I’m trying to lock myself into this course of action.

My hesitation comes from two sources. Firstly, there is the rather ‘meta’ issue that such a simulation is going to be tricky to produce – which is exactly what the simulation is supposed to be about – but I fear that is more my problem than yours.

The second is simply one of time. APSA TLC starts on Friday this week; I fly out tomorrow (and I have several blockbusters I need to catch up with in-flight), by which time I’ve got to leave my affairs here in the office in order. This leaves hardly any time at all to work something up by the time of my presentation on Friday afternoon, especially if we assume I can find some sights to see in LA on Thursday (not to mention In-n-Out, for reasons too complicated to go into now).

But I’m going to give it a try. Partly that’s my social obligation kicking in, so that my fellow panelists don’t think I’m just being an armchair spectator. But partly it’s my own curiosity. Even since writing the paper I’ve been turning it over in my head and I think it would do me good to try and get it out.

It might not work, but I’ll have tried. And sometimes it’s the trying that matters.

Reminder: Register for APSA Teaching Learning by Feb 1st

Join the editors of ALPS at the 10th annual Teaching and Learning Conference, hosted by the American Political Science Association in Long Beach, California from 8-10 February, 2013.  This will also mark the fourth anniversary of our collective attendance on the International Relations Simulations and Role Play track and the second anniversary of the creation of this blog.  It is one of my favorite conferences, as I always feel like I leave with a number of concrete ideas to apply to my own classes and programs.  Its also been a productive venture in terms of my scholarship in teaching and learning.

Registration closes on the 1st of February and is somewhat pricey at $275 for APSA members, $370 for non-members.  On the plus side: California in February.

Hope to see some of you there. Stop by the S&R II track and say hello!

A New Year, Same Old Problems

While the discussions among the ALPS group continue on the weighty subject of whether to wear tracksuits for our short course at APSA L&T in Long Beach, I have also been talking recently with the UK’s Higher Education Academy on the related matter of developing resources for simulations across the social sciences.

This comes in the wake of the critical acclaim (i.e. my mum said it ‘sounded nice’ when I told her about it) for my work during last year, focusing on politics resources. The putting-together of basic ‘how-to’ materials exposed some of the core issues that we all face when coming to new pedagogies, as well as helping me to step back from the process and reflect some more on how we might communicate this to others.

This ties in rather neatly with my paper for Long Beach : indeed you might suspect that I’d planned it like that. The paper is shaping up to be a reflective discussion on the fundamental ambiguities in using simulations and the consequences that this has for sharing this pedagogy.

In essence, I suggest that the two main assumptions of simulations are that a) the world can be reduced to a relative simple set of features, but that b) those simple features produce great complexity and variety. We essentialise, only to expose that essence as insufficient for a rounded understanding, by means of making students ‘live’ that essence.

Thus we are offered great scope in choosing what we think is important to recreate in a simulation, which in turn means that when someone produces resources for us, they will almost inevitably not fit what we are looking for (or think we’re looking for, at any rate). In my previous experience, I’ve still yet to use someone else’s game in the same way that they suggested it be used, and I’ve not had someone else use my games in the way that I suggested.

That’s not a problem per se, but it does highlight the intrinsic difficulties of producing resources that are of use to a given individual.

My solution so far has been to try and approach simulations at the level of principles and tools, with the user operationalising the former by means of the latter, in light of their specific objectives. Alternatively, the games I’ve shared have also pointed their multiple uses and points for modification.

As I finish up my paper, I’m trying to think of other ways that this might be tackled and I’ll be looking to share these in the coming month or so and I’d be grateful for feedback and other suggestions. In particular, if people have views decision-making trees, then I’d like to hear from you.

And now, back to the tracksuit conversation.

Join us at TLC

Just a quick reminder that the deadline for proposing papers to the APSA’s Teaching and Learning Conference (TLC) is coming up on September 13th.  The conference will be held in Long Beach, CA from 8-10 February, 2013.  The call for papers can be found here.

The conference is organized according to 12 tracks and participants stay with their track the entire time.  The tracks range widely, from Civic Education to Teaching Research Methods, Political Theory, Graduate Students, and Internationalizing the Curriculum.  There are also workshops throughout the conference that are well worth attending.

It is a small conference, but well worth attending (in part due to its size, which encourages community-building).  The editors of this blog are regular participants in the Simulations and Role Play Track; in fact, it is at the 2011 TLC where we met and the idea for the ALPS blog first germinated. I find that more than any other conference, I come away from TLC reflecting on my own professional work and eager to try out ideas shared by colleagues.

Plus, this year it’s in southern California in February.  That can’t hurt.

Crowdsourcing a resource

After an Easter hiatus, I’m back in the office, even if our students are still on break.  One of my activities was attending the annual conference of the Political Studies Association, whose kind funding allowed me to travel to APSA L&T last year and meet my collaborators here on the ALPS blog.  While waiting in the terminal at Belfast City airport for a delayed flight back home, I sketched out an idea I’ve been having for some time about building a resource for running simulations.

From the initial ruminating with colleagues and building up ideas, I’ve set up a website for this project, entitled “How to do Simulation Games” (not very clever, but at least clear).  As you can see, there’s not much there right now, beyond the structure.  My plan is to gradually build up material, as I have the time and inclination, so that there is something of practical use to colleagues, both in Politics and beyond.

The idea comes from an awareness that while there is a burgeoning literature on simulations, there’s still not much of the basic ‘how-to’ stuff that I find many people look for when coming to this pedagogy: it’s all well and good me writing a paper about immersion, but that’s no good to someone who doesn’t know what the basic building blocks of a simulation are (or might be).

As I say on the site, I welcome help since I know I don’t know nearly everything about the various aspects.  That help can be something very small and specific (maybe a game to upload), or if you want to jump on as a co-author type, then I’m cool with that too.  In the longer run, and depending on how this goes, there’s obviously potential for some more conventional publishing opportunity (again recognising everyone’s input), although that’s no more than a thought at this stage.

So if you like what you see, then drop me a line and let’s see where it goes.

Live from the 1st Annual NEGMA Conference @ MIT Media Lab

I’m sitting in a large 6th floor room of the MIT Media Lab at the 1st Annual NEGMA Conference, “Innovative Solutions for a Brighter Egypt.” The conference is an application of active learning principles.

The conference is in part designed to support entrepreneurship, innovation, and social development in Egypt. Ten finalists, selected through an outside expert review process, are competing to have their projects funded by NEGMA’s supporters. Project proposals range from equipping small digital fabrication labs to vocational training for the disabled.

So far I’ve gotten three main lessons from the conference. First, when large sums of money are at stake, presentation skills are crucial. Earlier today competitors were required to pitch their proposals to conference attendees, who then voted on their favorites. People who botched their presentations were left at a distinct disadvantage.

Second, collaboration with peers has value. After the presentations, projects were workshopped among conference participants in small groups — in a process that’s very similar to what happens at the APSA’s Teaching and Learning Conference. The finalists’ project proposals were strengthened for tomorrow’s presentations before judges.

The third lesson is that the unbundling of higher education will continue apace, whether we like or not. The traditional four-year, full-time, residential model of undergraduate education is dead. The technology of the internet is indeed making it possible for anyone to learn anything at anytime from anyone. As stated this morning by Wael Fakharany, Google’s regional director for Egypt and North Africa, every minute sixty hours of video are uploaded onto YouTube. Every day, 30 million devices connect to the internet in Egypt alone. Globally, Google handles 4 billion searches daily. This digital landscape is how people around the world will be accessing affordable and effective education — even in areas like vocational training.