PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

PS: Political Science & Politics: Summary of TLC 2015 simulation and role play track

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The latest issue of PS: Political Science and Politics 48, 3 (July 2015) contains a summary of the simulation and role play track of the American Political Science Association’s 2015 Teaching and Learning Conference. We’ve reproduced it below at length. Each year the TLC includes a number of papers presentations and discussions on the use of simulations in teaching political science.

Simulation and Roleplay

Michelle Allendoerfer, George Washington University

Casey Delehanty, Florida State University

As in previous years, the 2015 Simulations and Role Play track served as an ideal arena for the presentation and discussion of active learning exercises for a variety of classroom environments. Track participants took care to integrate the lessons of previous years into the discussion, so as to build upon previous insights and identify recurring themes.One of the main themes of the track was the evaluation and implementation of simulations and games. Andrew Schlewitz and Joan Andorfer explored the degree to which substantive learning took hold within a Model OAS simulation and how these outcomes differed based on individual student characteristics. Chad Raymond compared the effectiveness of two different simulations in terms of their ability to cultivate empathy in students. Robbin Smith presented a fantastic US government simulation as well as pre- and post-test assessments of student learning outcomes. Michelle Allendoerfer used follow-up surveys to test the degree to which simulations were more-or-less effective than lecture in terms of increasing student retention.

Generally the results of these attempts at assessment were muddled. Studies of simulation effectiveness are continually plagued by “small-n” problems as well as the lack of true control groups, which poses problems for instructors who seek to “justify” the implementation of simulations and other active learning exercises in the classroom. While empirical analysis has yet to conclusively demonstrate the superiority of active learning techniques, it is generally the case that simulations are not worse for student learning than traditional techniques. Despite this muddled empirical record, track participants generally concluded that the increase in student enjoyment and engagement provoked by simulations is valuable in and of itself. While it may be difficult to empirically demonstrate the inherent value of active learning, the process in itself can generate positive student outcomes across a range of activities.

Gavin Mount’s “Simulating World Politics: Teaching as Research” presented the idea that simulations themselves can be used as sites of inquiry for students. While instructors often think of active learning exercises as delivery mechanisms for knowledge, deconstructing the institutional rules and implied norms of simulations themselves can be a productive method of debriefing students and encouraging critical thinking about political systems. Discussion then centered on the importance of debriefing: whether done as an in-class discussion or through personal reflective essay, instructors should allow students to discover the underlying themes and lessons from active learning rather than “telling.”

Finally, a number of presentations addressed the notion of adapting new or existing simulations to changing learning environments or goals. Gretchen Gee presented a simulation of Chechen terrorism for use in a “blended” classroom (a mix of online as well as classroom meetings), spurring an interesting discussion on the challenges of adapting active learning to non-traditional environments as classroom dynamics change. Nina Kollars, Victor Asal, Amanda Rosen, and Simon Usherwood demonstrated the flexibility of the Hobbes Game in terms of the learning goals it can be structured to evoke, demonstrating the degree to which small changes in simulation structure can beget new learning opportunities or goals.

The Simulations and Role Play track enjoyed a conference filled with rigorous discussions about how to effectively use simulations. Discussions surrounding assessment led to the general conclusion that as long as simulations seem to engage student learning and do not negatively effect learning outcomes, that a shift in the discussion to how to successfully create and execute simulations was in order. To that end, participants discussed how to effectively use debriefing strategies to engage students. Further, participants in the track concluded with a fruitful discussion of advantages and disadvantages of existing simulations that served a very practical purpose.

Next year’s TLC will take place in Portland, Oregon on 12-14 February 2016.

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