A little EU crisis game

How would you simulate this? Why would you simulate this?

For someone who’s supposed to be a scholar on the EU, I don’t do many games about the EU. That’s because there are plenty of options out there, plus I don’t often have reason to run these kinds of games, which normally need a significant number of students. Plus, it’s hard to do something that’s different.

However, fortune occasionally brings forth moments to change matters, and this is just such a moment.

As part of the INOTLES project, we’ve been running an online module with students from nine European institutions, learning about the EU. As a capstone, we’re spending most of this week in Brussels, doing a variety of activities, visiting institutions, and trying the local produce. Continue reading “A little EU crisis game”

The Whys and Why Nots of Using Technology in the Politics Classroom: a Research Framework – Guest post by Alexandra Mihai

downloadThis guest post from Alexandra Mihai (IES, Brussels) was originally published on her blog, The Educationalist

Having been working for about nine years on designing and delivering technology-enhanced courses on European Studies, I became familiar with the community of politics/ IR scholars who adopted technology and integrates it- to different degrees—in their teaching practice. Very soon I came to realise that this is actually “a bubble within a bubble”, a small part of the group of academics interested in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, i.e. in reflecting on and conducting research activities surrounding their pedagogical practice.

While regularly attending various international e-learning conferences, I quickly became aware of the fact that, while social sciences in general were less represented, politics/ IR were a pretty rare occurrence. This intrigued me and prompted me to look around myself, talk to my colleagues and peers and try to find out if this is indeed the case, if politics scholars are slower and more reluctant in adopting technology and using it in teaching than their peers from other disciplines. A few years and many conferences and workshops later, my experience confirms what I had intuitively known all along.

Continue reading “The Whys and Why Nots of Using Technology in the Politics Classroom: a Research Framework – Guest post by Alexandra Mihai”

Teaching EU online communication through simulation – the twitcol case: Guest post by Jon Worth

Guest author Jon Worth works across Europe, offering consultancy on a range of subject areas. This post was originally posted on his own blog and is reproduced with his permission.

wOb93E7uFor the first time in the academic year 2015-16 I am a member of the faculty of the politics department at the College of Europe in Bruges. My own MA is from the College of Europe (in 2003-04) and it is good to be back there as a teacher this time. The College operates a system of a kind of flying faculty – we are called upon to run courses or seminars, but are not actually based in Bruges. My own course is a short, optional one entitled Online Communications in EU policymaking, but this post concerns my contribution to a compulsory course for all 96 politics MA students run by Pierpaolo Settembri andCostanza Hermanin – the EU legislation simulation game.

The basic idea of the simulation game is relatively well known – each student gets allocated a role, and all of the aspects of an EU legislative negotiation are played out by the students playing these roles. Pierpaolo is the author of a book about how to use these sorts of games to teach about the EU. Continue reading “Teaching EU online communication through simulation – the twitcol case: Guest post by Jon Worth”

Process v. outcome in simulations

Chad's simulations were becoming a bit too realistic...
Chad’s simulations were becoming a bit too realistic…

Very occasionally, different parts of one’s life collide with each other, often after you’ve had a bit too much to drink, which further contributes to the further unrolling of the evening.

Any way.

In this case, no drinking (except of cups of tea) was involved for me this week, when I attended a ‘wargame’ of the British renegotiation of European Union membership. Run by Open Europe, the day had two parts, each intended to cast some light on what might happen in, respectively, the current renegotiation and then in the event of a ‘no’ vote in the referendum.

This was a high-rent production. Fancy City venue, live-streaming of the entire event, plus (most importantly) roles being played by People (former ministers and ambassadors): The British were represented by a former Foreign Secretary, Maclom Rifkind, and a former Chancellor, Norman Lamont. All of this built on a previous event in 2013 and given the number of TV camera crews from across Europe, it was not your usual event.

For all that, it was also a very strange affair.

Continue reading “Process v. outcome in simulations”

Cleaning up other people’s mess (in a good way)

3175714614_321ac67ede_bA few weeks ago, I wrote about simulating the Greek crisis. I suggested then that one issue in doing this was the difficulty of carrying things over from year to year in the classroom: students change, curricula change, you never quite know whether it’s still going to be relevant, etc.

As Amanda rightly pointed out in an email to me some time later, you can perfectly well do it, with a bit of thought. So it’s with that bit of thought that I am now doing it.

Last year I created my first online asynchronous simulation for the INOTLES project in which I participate. As you’ll see from the post, it’s a simplified recreation of the East European situation, with a friendly (if ponderous) EU-like structure on one side and a confident (if worryingly so) Russia-like country on the other.

I played this with my students too, with the upshot that the ‘Russians’ produced a surprising success in sealing a deal with the ‘East Europeans’ (largely over a misunderstanding, but let’s not pretend that doesn’t happen in real life too). I put the simulation back on the shelf, mused on what had happened and then basically forgot about it.

Until Amanda’s email. There’s no reason why this year’s students can’t pick up where their predecessors left off.

It’s a fictional scenario, with all the requisite information provided. Since it allows for a wide-ranging set of actions, there is no obvious end-point or stable equilibrium. Indeed, one might imagine that some students might take the opportunity to revise the actions of the past, just because they can. Certainly, given the rather devil-may-care approach to a second round of the Hobbes games in class yesterday, that looks like a rather likely outcome.

I’ll quote Amanda at some length here:

Whenever we do a simulation, it tends to be a new run of an old game–how neat would it be to have the simulation just continue, with students acting as the newly appointed representative for that country and having to work with old agreements produced by students who are no longer in power?  I find the idea really interesting, not only for the sense of realism it brings to ongoing negotiations, but also for the real-world skill of having to step into a job vacated by someone else and having to figure out what the prior office holder did and how to incorporate their decisions into your own

Amanda’s last point is perhaps the crucial one: we all have to pick up other people’s stuff and deal with it – it’s a basic stable of professional life – so getting to experience that is a useful opportunity for personal development.

Indeed, in this game the original conceit that it opened with no particular situation is clearly unrealistic, so we’ll learn about path dependency directly.

Amanda’s one concern was about record-keeping: how to capture what had happened, so that we can pick it up again. Well, I’ll admit that this isn’t a big issue in this case. The final agreement reached ran to a full four lines of hand-written text and there was nothing else to share. I’m hoping that this time around we’ll have clearer sight of the next year, so that paper-trails can be left, with all the joys that brings.

As usual, this is all new territory for me, so I’ll be reporting back as we progress.

Another way to teach EU politics

Among the various ways new technology has made my life easier is Google Scholar alerts: you just enter a search term and then it sends you regular emails with links to anything academic it finds. For a research area like mine – euroscepticism – that covers a very wide range of disciplines and sub-fields, it’s been a great way to keep aware of the flood of material that exists (even if I don’t already get around to reading).

One thing that I have read was this syllabus by Jacob Buksti from DIS, a non-profit that offers courses in Denmark and Sweden to North Americans. The course is one that aims to explore the European Union, but which also makes use of a study trip to Brussels and the Hague.

I share it as an example of how there is a variety of ways to tackle such subjects. Buksti’s novelty – which I’ve not seen used before in this context – is to get students to interview people in Brussels. From my reading of the syllabus, this helps to reinforce what the students learn from their classes, a simulation of the Council and their more conventional study visit, as well as developing their skill-set for research down the line.

How this works, we’d need to ask Buksti himself (which I will try to do), but as we all start up our teaching for the year, it’s always worth remembering that there’s always another way of doing things.

With that in mind, I’ll be posting some reports early next week from the UACES general conference in Bilbao, where there’s not only a L&T workshop day, but also several panels.


Modelling a mess

Some Greek misunderstanding about having a meal break

One of our perennial themes here at ALPSBlog is the notion of learning from learning, the idea that even when nominal objectives are not achieved, there’s still something (much, even) to be learnt. I get you to try and build a 20m bridge across a lake, using only tissue paper, you fail, but get something from the experience none-the-less.

This past week I was asked (jokingly, I hope) whether I could capture the negotiations on the Greek bailout saga. I’ll assume you’ve heard about this, even if you didn’t follow the details and that, like me, your over-riding impression was one of a chronic failure to find constructive or timely agreement between the various parties. The Onion has its own drole simulation of the forces at work.

Now this is different from the learning from failure model in that it appears to be a situation where failure to find some agreement is not an acceptable option and where all the good options are excluded and all the remaining options come with big costs. Let’s call it a messed-up situation that only gets worse over time.

Now this is really interesting to explore with students, both as a specific case and an example of poor negotiation. As a case-study, the Greek crisis touches on democracy, European integration, party politics, macro-economics and a bunch of other big social science issues: any simulation would be a great entree into these. As a negotiation format, it brings together an interesting combination of domestic and international actors, with varying degrees of resource (and legitimacy) in an environment where rules are highly flexible (which means you could capture much of the fluidity in a classroom).

However, the big question is quite what you want to capture in a simulation.

If the main thing is the inability to find a lasting solution, then you immediately hit an issue with the time and space constraints of the classroom: neither your students nor your university will let you have a simulation that drags on for several years. The only option here would be to have a game where resolution was fundamentally impossible, and each new cohort of students would simply play during their allotted time, to reach a new conditional outcome. However, that comes at a price to the visibility of the whole sequence.

If the aim is to highlight the lack of good options, then it becomes much easier. A few years ago (i.e. nearer the start of the Greek crisis), I wrote a game about austerity politics, modelled very much on the Eurozone’s travails. This game hasn’t got a good outcome (in the sense of optimal for most players), but it could be extended further, either by adding more domestic political constraints/challenges or by creating an external IMF-ish role to make it even more painful. The game already has rounds, so you could just keep on pushing this on, so that everyone get’s even more tetchy with each other.

A third option would be to focus on how the unstructured nature of the negotiation environment matters. Students could be given the task of trying to design a more formalised structure for the participants, with roles and responsibilities, in order to help them see how the different parts fit together. This would then be a critique of the real situation and a way into the underlying tensions.

This last is something that I’m tempted to try with my students this autumn, not least because they will have to learn how to organise themselves in order to be able to discuss productively how others should be organised. Since I’m aware that my students do read these posts, I’ll say no more, other than I can see several ways that they could do this, to better or worse effect.

This last point brings us back to the main issue, namely of identifying your learning objectives. That’s not just true of this, but of all your learning activities. Once you know where you want to end up, the path to get there becomes that much more clear.


Politics in Real Time

No ControlStudents often perceive history as a series of unique and disconnected events that are irrelevant to the experience of the present. Subsequently abstract principles seem impossibly vague. A recent column in The New York Times is a brilliant demonstration of how to solve this problem:

What Would Thucydides Say About the Crisis in Greece?

A nice complement is:

Europe’s Attack on Greek Democracy

That these two essays were written by a historian and an economist, and published online to a global audience, is perhaps illustrative of how political scientists fail to communicate effectively with students and with the wider world about current events.

Flipping conference presentations

Possible source of confusion

I’m back in the office after a fabulous week of learning & teaching-related events. OK, maybe the exam board I went to wasn’t fabulous, but it was certainly instructive.

However, the big thing was going out to Chisinau in Moldova – the world’s second-least visited country – for a workshop of INOTLES, to discuss how we implement all our fine work in the partner institutions.

As workshops go, it went well: sensible amounts of time of different activities, a healthy mix of presentation and discussion, all facilitated by a positive environment and (ahem) local produce.

But, as is usual in such situations, I got me thinking about how we run such meetings of academics, but least because I was also having conversations about the next European Teaching & Learning Conference (see my posts from the last one).

Asking for ideas about how to be more engaging, I came up with a bunch of very radical stuff. However, it lately transpired that I had been drinking and that very little of it was actually workable, so it was back to the drawing board on the plane home.

The one idea that did seem to have something to it was the notion of a ‘flipped conference presentation’.

Basically, you’d ask people to produce a paper (as usual), but to then record a podcast of their presentation to post online, so that people could watch before the conference, and then use the panel time for discussion.

This would obviate the situation we all know, of a panel that runs out of time for questions. It would also be a learning experience for many, so they could see how simple recording yourself can be, which they could then take into the classroom. They win, we win, lovely.

It’s something I’ve not heard of before, but a quick google search suggests that I’ve far from the first to have the idea – try Jack Yensen, for example, or this example from Michael Seery. And props to Daniel Lambach for the link to Rom’s piece in PS that I’d missed.

Of course, this is not without its challenges. Just as people don’t always read papers before a conference, they might not watch all the podcasts and then they have little to go on when they turn up to the panel. Lots of signposting beforehand might help, as might a panel structure where the chair ‘interviews’ the panellists on common themes in a first section of time, before opening up to questions from the floor.

Technical issues might also pop up. If it’s ‘something not working’ then a conference helpdesk would resolve it. If it’s ‘this is stupid’ then either you have to be flexible, or you could offer another way out.

However, my thought of a way out might not strike you as very desirable.

So, something to think about.

As you’ll note from the two examples of others doing this, it’s not a PoliSci thing, nor even a social science thing, but a pedagogy thing. Another good reason to cast your net widely.

Guest Post: European Studies for Business Students (Natalia Timus)


timusToday’s guest post comes from Natalia Timus (Maastricht):

One of the challenges of teaching European studies apart from its multidisciplinary character, is a wide target audience interested in this field of studies. This requires a certain degree of flexibility on the part of the instructor in adapting their knowledge and skills to be transferred during the learning process to the specific audience, be it political scientists, historians, economists, or lawyers, for example.

For the second year in a row I have been invited to teach a crash course on the ‘EU and its outsiders’, with a focus on Eastern European neighbourhood, for a summer program of a business school. This represented a new adventure for me and a major challenge for my teaching approach. I was well aware that I have to keep it simple, interactive, and get most of the things done during the classroom, since the course consisted of three days intensive teaching (15 hours) and everyone was looking forward for some beach or sightseeing time in Nice, France.

My first concern in defining my teaching approach was how to optimally talk about business and economic developments from the perspective of a political scientist that I am, and not sliding into the business field that might represent a big mystery to me. For the beginning, I considered important identifying major issues within the field of political economy that might provide a fertile ground for the study of business and political science. Taking into account the multinational profile of my students, as well as the high probability of their lack of any previous background on Eastern Europe or EU external relations, I decided to balance between the time devoted to cover the domestic level transition to democracy and market economy and the external influence, covering both the EU  and Russia.

Now that half of the job has been done, I still had to define the appropriate pedagogical approach I would use. Although I knew little about students’ background, I was informed that there is a large majority coming from the United States higher indication system, but half of them were Chinese, many of them being enrolled both at the BA and MA levels within business calls, some of them were practitioners that decided to use the summer as an opportunity for personal development, and their age varied from early twenties to forties. There was also the division between native and non-native English speakers that I had to be taken into account. In these circumstances, I reflected upon the pedagogical strategy that would provide enough room for everyone to feel comfortable raising questions and taking part in class activities, as well as balancing between individual and team work.

Knowing that case study is a widespread pedagogical approach within the business education, I have conducted a small research for better understanding the use of this method and ended up adapting it to my specific content to be delivered and the time constraints. I chose to work on four case studies engaging students in face-to-face group work during the classrooms and devoting around one hour for each case study.

Apart from that, being a fan of debates, which I have acquired as a learning approach during my high school years, I also inserted two open class debates, where individual student participation was assessed, and one final debate, like a desert for the course, which has been structured as a parliamentary debate and the two groups shared the grade based on their performance.

As I was new with teaching EU studies to business students, their feedback was very important to me. Therefore I have devoted 5 to 10 minutes for debriefing after each day for a joint reflection on the teaching of the learning process, and the final debriefing when I asked the students to reflect on two questions: 1) what course element did you like the most and why? and 2) what could be further improved and how?

I was glad to see that the students felt comfortable enough with providing an open face-to-face feedback additional to the formal evaluation forms that they had to provide to the administration. Overall, they shared the view that the course was well paced, with a good balance between lecturing and interactive parts, as well as regular breaks of five minutes once an hour. They also appreciated the case studies and their class material that they had to prepare on the spot and then take part in group and class discussions. Some of them suggested as a potential improvement a more focused lecture on Russia, taking into account their personal interests in the country, or would have welcomed more in-depth information on the EU, which largely  represented a mystery for them. But all of them liked the fact that there was enough room to ask questions and that I, as an instructor, was feeling comfortable with addressing them, even if they were going somehow beyond the focus of the course.

I must confess I truly enjoyed this unique experience although it required a considerable amount of time and effort for preparing the tailor-made course for teaching the ES to business students. I felt empowered by their positive feedback and it motivated me to improve further for the second year and get more comfortable with my teaching approach. And finally, it just feels special when one as an instructor has the opportunity of introducing for the first time some knowledge to the students and know that it will have a significant impact on their personal development and the way they perceive the world in the future.