Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Review: Simulations in the Political Science Classroom

Mark Harvey, James Fielder, and Ryan Gibb (eds), Simulations in the Political Science Classroom: Games Without Frontiers (Routledge, 2023). USD $31.46 pb, $112.00 hc.

This text is a must read for those using simulations in their classrooms and seeking to demonstrate their utility to sceptical colleagues or institutions. The book is useful in bringing together a range of arguments in favour of the pedagogical contribution of games to classrooms as well as some clears guides of ‘how to’ incorporate games, how to design games and how to tie them to methods of assessment. I think the book also does an excellent job of demonstrating that simulations and games can be used in a range of teaching settings in political science – for example in teaching political theory classes (chapters 4 and 13), government courses (chapters 7, 8 and 10), law courses (chapter 11) and electoral politics (chapter 12) – as well as in the more traditional area of international relations (chapters 14 and 15). 

To achieve these aims the text is organised into three parts: pedagogical foundations of games and simulations; designing and teaching games; and conclusions. Essentially, this structure means the editors take a reader through the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of games in the political science and international relations disciplines. A core strength of this approach is in how the chapters speak to one another. For example, Edmond Hally’s chapter (pp.42-55) makes an argument for lengthier and more realistic games for achieving a range of student learning outcomes (SLOs) in particular when games are incorporated into the structure of teaching within modules/units. Hally discusses the relationship between SLOs and games as being either intrinsic or extrinsic to module or classroom, noting that extrinsic incorporation of an abstract game “has a connection to the most basic class SLO – knowledge of course political theories – but never produced any statistically significant learning gains for the final exam.” (p.49) In contract Hally notes that the more realistic role play game produced better overall scores in the final exam and intrinsically connected to more of the SLOs for the course. 

David Clayborn and Mark Harvey, acknowledge this conclusion but then  argue that shorter games with simpler design may be a better entry point for convincing colleagues who are less convinced of the educational value of games, offering structures for the games and how to simplify them but also lists of prompts or discussion questions . As such this chapter does an excellent job of providing “tips, ideas and visions” (p.71) of how to incorporate games into their courses/modules/programmes. My slight critique here is that this chapter might perhaps have been better at the front of the section of the collection rather than at the end. 

Lucy Britt’s chapter on Medicare and lobbying (pp.114-126) is both practical (in terms of how to use this simulation in your own class) as well as providing a grounding for this activity in relation to debates on ‘active learning’ (p.114) and pedagogy. The way this chapter is presented also means that teachers can adapt this simulation to a range of classes and levels (pp.121-122). 

Mark Harvey’s chapter on “Taking a Risk” (chapter 14, pp.233-255) is useful in demonstrating the utility of using the game ‘Risk’ for international relations. This chapter as two objectives which it clearly achieves: to demonstrate how to use the game Risk in the classroom (and tie it to learning objectives); and to set out evidence for the contribution of this approach for student learning. 

I would argue this book is therefore a must read for those considering using games or simulations in a variety of political science settings. I would also argue that it is useful for anyone already using games who wants to adapt their approach, try different styles of games, deepen, or change the connection of their games to their pedagogy, or even as a discussion text for teaching forums within universities and colleges. 

Catherine Jones, University of St. Andrews

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