PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

recent papers on political and conflict simulations

A number of recent papers have appeared online related to political and conflict simulations, most of them arising from this month’s APSA 2013 Teaching & Learning conference. Here is a quick summary of those most closely related to our interests here at PAXsims:

Alexander Cohen, Living Politics: Building a Semester-Long Simulation of International and Domestic Politics

Students learn by doing, but convincing them to ‘do’ is not always easy. While simulations can be an excellent tool for interpreting, discussing, and experiencing political concepts and ideas, they can only be successful if they engage the classroom. This paper seeks to help scholars construct increasingly immersive, relevant, and educational simulations by developing a conceptual framework for creating and running simulations. It is organized in three parts.

First, it offers a summary of a successful semester-long simulation of political behavior taught at a small liberal arts institution to non-political science majors. This course was organized into two-week thematic Units, which were in turn broken into halves. In the first half of each Unit, students learned in a traditional setting of reading, discussion, and lecture. In the second half, lessons and ideas were applied in weeklong simulations designed by the instructor. To accomplish this, students were permanently divided into groups of five which comprised ‘countries.’ Within these countries, each student was given a specialized role designed to suit their personality, such as military commander, artisan, or leader. These positions correlated to specific tasks within each simulation, as well as specific graded work that was rolled into a portfolio due the close of class. The nature of simulations varied from week to week. Countries were asked to confront a variety of challenges, including tackling domestic tragedies of the commons, designing regimes, attempting to build IGOs, and crafting political ideologies. Simulations were linked so that the outcome of one simulation affected outcomes in another. To heighten student interest and imagination, countries were also forced to contend with an ever-growing viral outbreak that transformed populations into zombies — an accessible proxy for any number of international and domestic crises with which governments regularly contend. By the second week of the course, the classroom resembled an international community — an ideal laboratory to explore questions of ideology, rationality, and strategy. The simultaneously cooperative and competitive aspects of simulations drove students to voluntarily form working groups out of class, develop complex propaganda campaigns, and continue to simulate events via e-mail between simulation weeks. Classroom engagement was extraordinary, student satisfaction very high, and student performance on exams and written assignments superlative.

Next, drawing on analysis of this successful experience, this paper presents a framework for understanding simulation. This framework stresses four elements: accountability, artistry, immersion, and incentives. This paper argues that successful simulation construction is heavily dependent upon properly incorporating these elements into scenario design. First, to help ensure initial engagement, students must be held accountable for their participation in a concrete and measurable way. Second, instructors should recall that simulations require imagination, and that imagination is best fostered through creative artistry in scenario design. Third, simulations are most effective when they are pervasive — everything from instructions, evaluations, gameplay, and classroom etiquette should be conducted within the language of that simulation. Finally, simulation designers are advised to focus upon incentive structures embedded within simulations as a simple but important way to channel student behavior.

Finally, this paper offers perspective on four successful strategies for managing simulations: adaptability, storytelling, consequences, and managing cooperation and conflict. In order to ensure productive simulation flow, instructors must be able to adapt to classroom mood. Some suggestions are offered to help instructors gauge classroom attitudes and adapt accordingly. As simulations progress, storytelling becomes increasingly important to maintain immersion; this paper provides advice on how to convert student work and actions into a cohesive and digestible storyline that is excellent fodder for serious discussion. Further, students are most deeply engaged when they feel that their actions in the simulated world have consequences, and so this paper provides examples of methods that make students feel that their decisions have impact. Finally, this paper offers some advice about managing cooperation and conflict — which, when balanced properly, are important tools to promote engagement as well as topics of learning in themselves.

Patricia Stapleton, War Games: Comparative and IR Theory Simulations

Theories of comparative politics and international relations are often presented in introductory courses to the subfields. Yet, with little to no prior knowledge of political science, undergraduate students struggle to grasp the theories in their abstract form. In-class role-playing and simulation activities can provide important context and real-world applications to political science theories. They also create other learning opportunities for students who have different learning styles. In this paper, I detail three activities that I have used in comparative and IR undergraduate courses: a comparative advantage simulation, a balance of power simulation, and a foreign policy advisement role-playing activity. In addition to reviewing the preparatory assignments and individual activity details, I explain the positive outcomes and learning objectives of all three. Finally, I address how I measure the effectiveness of such activities, as well as potential areas for improvement.

Daniel Beers, Policymaking in Post-Earthquake Haiti: A Real-Time Classroom Simulation

In this paper, I argue that real-time simulations – that is, simulations based on real world events that are still in progress – are a particularly effective form of classroom simulation, which capture the elements of urgency and uncertainty that are often missing from fictional or historical case study simulations. Specifically, I contend that real-time simulations help students to engage with the material in a more personal and immediate way than traditional role play exercises. Moreover, real-time simulations are realistically unpredictable, because the information that students use to make decisions is uncertain, incomplete and ever-changing. After discussing the theoretical benefits of real-time simulations, the paper describes an example from an undergraduate course on international development at Knox College, which focuses on the issue of international aid in post-earthquake Haiti. Based on the results of pre- and post-simulation surveys administered to participants in the course, I argue that real-time simulations like the one described here constitute a promising teaching tool for instructors of political science and international relations.

Joseph Roberts, Designing a New Simulation of Ethnic Conflict: Lessons Learned from the Trenches

For the fall semester 2010, the Politics of Ethnic Conflict course I taught used the Dacia Simulation, a simulation of ethnic conflict resolution created by Thomas Ambrosio of North Dakota State University. The student response was excellent in both the student evaluations after the course and in comments by students in debriefings. However, one of the issues that I discovered is that students needed, or wanted, additional information such as the geographic location of waterways, significant bodies of water, and other geographic formations that were not included in the Dacia Simulation. In preparing for a subsequent offering in the fall semester 2013, I decided that a new simulation was necessary that would incorporate the strategic geographic features and other modifications beyond those included in Dacia. The new simulation, “Bokhtikkari Nationalism in Assuwa: A Simulation of Conflict Resolution in an Ethnically Divided Society,” incorporates secessionist and irredentist ethnic conflict. The most important goal of the newsimulation is for students to create a stable environment and a peaceful resolution of that conflict. The simulation was based on an actual conflict. However, the details were hidden behind a fictional veil to encourage students to act within the boundaries of the simulation and not rely on their understanding of the real world scenario. This paper addresses the design process and an evaluation of the effectiveness of the simulation, including a student evaluation, of the effectiveness of the simulation.

David Bridge and Simon Redford, Teaching Diplomacy by Other Means: Using an Outside-of-Class Simulation to Teach International Relations Theory

In this article, we introduce the online version of the board game Diplomacy as a pedagogical tool to teach about the strengths and limitations of constructivism, liberalism, and realism. Beyond helping students learn about the three paradigms, the game has two additional benefits over traditional role-playing simulations. First, the online nature of the game allows it takes place outside of class, freeing up more class time and creating fewer opportunity costs for instructors who want to use simulations. Second, Diplomacy allows for a more straightforward method of assessment because it has clear rules that apply equally to all students. Plus, the online version provides a platform that gives instructors better insight into student participation. Using data, we show that students enjoyed the game, saw it as educational, and liked the fact that they played it outside of class. We conclude that online Diplomacy and outside-of-class simulations can be used as helpful tools to teach about international relations.

Joseph Roberts, Designing a New Simulation of Ethnic Conflict: Lessons Learned from the Trenches

For the fall semester 2010, the Politics of Ethnic Conflict course I taught used the Dacia Simulation, a simulation of ethnic conflict resolution created by Thomas Ambrosio of North Dakota State University. The student response was excellent in both the student evaluations after the course and in comments by students in debriefings. However, one of the issues that I discovered is that students needed, or wanted, additional information such as the geographic location of waterways, significant bodies of water, and other geographic formations that were not included in the Dacia Simulation. In preparing for a subsequent offering in the fall semester 2013, I decided that a new simulation was necessary that would incorporate the strategic geographic features and other modifications beyond those included in Dacia. The new simulation, “Bokhtikkari Nationalism in Assuwa: A Simulation of Conflict Resolution in an Ethnically Divided Society,” incorporates secessionist and irredentist ethnic conflict. The most important goal of the new simulation is for students to create a stable environment and a peaceful resolution of that conflict. The simulation was based on an actual conflict. However, the details were hidden behind a fictional veil to encourage students to act within the boundaries of the simulation and not rely on their understanding of the real world scenario. This paper addresses the design process and an evaluation of the effectiveness of the simulation, including a student evaluation, of the effectiveness of the simulation.

Amy Foster Rothbart, All the Classroom’s a Stage: Student Temperament and the Effectiveness of Role Playing Simulations

Assessment of the use of simulations in the classroom often focus on whether this technique is able to engage students in learning more deeply and therefore achieve gains in information retention, critical thinking, written and oral communication, problem solving, or the ability to understand complex systems and abstract concepts. Hidden by the measures of aggregate student achievement are the differences among students in their response to active learning methodologies. In particular, when simulations are used one might expect differences in both degree of enjoyment and in learning according to student personality traits, in particular their level of extroversion or introversion.

Using preliminary research on the use of a Reacting to the Past simulation game of political transition in post-apartheid South Africa in an introductory comparative politics class, this paper explores how simulation-based learning affects students differently. It examines in particular whether student success in and comfort with this simulation breaks down according to characteristics associated with introversion or extroversion assessed via student responses to a survey on their learning preferences. Ultimately, it considers how students who find simulation exercises more foreign to their learning style may be supported more effectively while engaging in them.

Tina Zappile, Can Online International Simulations Improve Global Awareness?

Research on the use of simulations to enhance global-specific student outcomes is linked to an overall effort to enhance global citizenship in the classroom. Phrases like globalizing and internationalizing have been increasingly included in strategic plans of higher education institutions. In addition, the movement towards assessment has introduced a variety of desired student outcomes, including global learning, education, or citizenship. This project relies on the popular International Communication & Negotiation Simulations (ICONS) international system simulation as a tool to improve global awareness as a student outcome. A set of survey tools adapted from similar research on the effect of online simulations on global empathy and learning in secondary education is used to assess changes in global awareness as a result of participation in this online simulation. In addition, this paper identifies key aspects of pedagogical design of simulations in support of that outcome and makes recommendations for further research linking simulations to student outcomes. Finally, the class evaluated for this project experienced major disruptions to their simulation experience, the direct impact of Superstorm Sandy and the unrelated death of a student in the class. This paper also includes successful strategies for dealing with serious disruptions in a way that enhances rather than hurts student experiences in simulations.

Matthew Woessner, Teaching with Simcity: Using Computer Games to Construct Dynamic Governance Simulations

One of the key challenges of teaching a college survey course like Introductory American Government, is the lack of interest on the part of students, many of whom take the course to satisfy a general education requirement. Recognizing that young people are fascinated by video games, I devised a governance simulation built on the popular video game SimCity. Although, the video game industry designed these sophisticated simulations to be played by a single participant, rather than a large group of players, I devised a simple set of rules that permit students to run these simulations collectively. The paper examines five factors that an instructor must account for if games like SimCity are to have real educational value. I argue that, if done properly, this in-class exercise provides a fun and interesting way to teach why democratic governance is so difficult.

Michael Allen Hunzeker, The Strategy Project

Strategy is central to political science. Wars, elections, treaties, and bargains – the outcomes we care most about turn on the strategies actors adopt to pursue their desired ends. Strategy is also one of the few political science concepts with widespread utility outside the classroom and the study of politics. Students who grasp what it means to act, compete, and cooperate strategically will have a decisive edge in the war room, boardroom, or courtroom.

Unfortunately, teachers who want to expose students to this critical way of thinking quickly find that there are few effective tools for doing so. This is especially true at the undergraduate level. From Clausewitz to Schelling, the canonical literature on strategy makes for dry reading. Game theory is similarly inaccessible to most college students (at least those without an abiding passion for math or deer hunting with Rousseau). Even contemporary national security strategy documents are a poor model for how to think strategically. They tend to read like a laundry list of goals and objectives. This overlooks the most important aspect of any strategic interaction: the other side has a say in the outcome too.

Two years ago a group of Princeton students began searching for a way to fill this gap. Working under the auspices of the University’s Center for International Security Studies (CISS), this team developed a simulation-based approach to strategic education. Since then their efforts have evolved into a coherent series of simulation exercises. One set of simulations teaches students about the bureaucratic obstacles to strategic action in a crisis. Another set focuses on grand strategy, helping students understand the challenges of investing today in the tools you need tomorrow. Both types are designed to be realistic yet accessible to the average undergraduate. To date over 225 undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students have participated in one of these simulations.

This paper recounts the origins of this initiative. It then describes the structure and results of the crisis simulation (as grand strategy simulation is still being refined). The goal is to share ideas with departments and research centers that are also interested in finding new ways to teach security studies and strategy. The key takeaway is that simulations are a low-cost, high yield way to fill an important gap while increasing student interest in the subject. In our experience they convey lessons of both theoretical and substantive value, doing so in a way that student-participants find more interesting and easier to remember than traditional lectures, readings, and discussions. They also attract students from a wide variety of disciplines and majors, including many with no prior exposure to the field.

Richard Arnold, Where’s the Diplomacy in Diplomacy? Using a Classic Board Game to Teach Introduction to International Relations

One of the challenges of teaching American undergraduates in an Introduction to International Relations course is finding a way to make topics and themes seem relevant to them. This paper recounts my experiences with the game “Diplomacy” in Introduction to International Relations. The game “Diplomacy” places students in the role of decision-makers in the international arena and simulates the international politics of pre-World War One Europe. As well as being a powerful simulation of the difficulties of International Relations, it also teaches students about one of the most debated wars in the history of the discipline.

Every time I have offered Introduction to International Relations, I have had students begin the class by playing two weeks of Diplomacy online (although earlier iterations had used the tabletop game). In the past, feedback from students has indicated that they both enjoyed the game and found it highly educational. In particular, students have a newfound appreciation for the complexities of the international arena. As well as exposing the website and how it may be used in an Introduction to International Relations course, this paper presents the first attempts to measure student learning quantitatively by administering a pre-test, post-test survey.

Jason Keiber, Dividing Up the Game: From Serial to Parallel Simulations

In-class simulations tend to involve all students in one pool of participants engaging in a single simulation. As an alternative to this ‘serial’ model of running one simulation at a time, the paper explores designing a ‘parallel’ model — running at least two versions of the same simulation simultaneously. The value-added of the parallel model is that students can learn from the differences they encounter within and across simulations. That is, students not only learn from the one simulation with which they are engaged, but they also benefit from a comparative analysis with their peers’ parallel simulations. The paper proposes ways to design-in differences and explores when and how to hold class discussions of the simulation. The paper includes an example simulation from the author’s experience and poses concerns regarding time management during a parallel simulation. To encourage instructors to think about their time commitments in conducting a parallel simulation the paper closes with a simple typology of different roles the instructor might take on — from a role of relative absence to that of a ‘game master’ which actively manages from outside and intervenes inside the simulation.

Chad Raymond, Can’t Get No (Dis)Satisfaction: The Statecraft Simulation’s Effect on Student Decision Making

Simulations are often employed as content-teaching tools in political science, but their effect on students’ reasoning skills is rarely assessed. This paper explores what effect the Statecraft simulation might have on the ability of undergraduate students to improve their decision-making abilities. As noted by the psychologist Daniel Kahneman (2012: 203), decisions are often evaluated on the basis of whether their outcomes are good or bad, not whether a sound reasoning process was used to reach them. A survey was administered at multiple points in an international relations course to gauge students’ satisfaction with the decision-making processes and outcomes in their respective teams during the Statecraft simulation. They also engaged in exercises in which their teams’ tentative plans were evaluated as if the plans had generated unfavorable outcomes after implementation. A comparison of students’ reactions to and achievements in Statecraft to survey and other data showed no obvious association between Statecraft and student perceptions of decision making.

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