Builds Community, Creates Learning Connections & Aids in Assessments
Dr. Kristin Vekasi used Statecraft International Relations for the first time this semester in her 150+ student Intro to World Politics course.
A top benefit was that the simulation helped create community in a large all-online class that could have felt impersonal. Students at least got to know six or seven other classmates in their simulation groups really well and it created laughter plus fun inside jokes for the class.
The automated component and helpful Statecraft materials also helped ease her workload. In a class that has students who are both political science majors and others who take it for general education, the broad range of backgrounds makes it difficult to assess students. In Statecraft students enter at the same level so it was much easier to assess what they had learned.
Since her class was so large she had two different simulation groups. Despite nearly-identical situations they had dramatically different results, which was very interesting and created teaching opportunities.
Fall 2020, December 16th
Kristin Vekasi, PhD, is an Associate Professor at the University of Maine Department of Political Science, in the School of Policy and International Affairs. She has been teaching for nine years and this was her first semester using Statecraft IR in her Intro to World Politics lower division 100-level course. It’s a large 150+ student course that has political science and international affairs majors but also students from across the university who take it as a general education class.
In a big class like this that has students outside of the major my students have a really broad range of backgrounds. It makes it difficult to assess what I had given them.
With Statecraft they all came in at the same place and I was able to actually assess: “Ok, how were you able to apply this theory in this way?” That was awesome; I really, really liked that element of using the simulation.
DR. KRISTIN VEKASI
I enjoy and value using simulations in the classes that I teach. It was my first time teaching a class this large. I have some simulation activities that might have worked in a live classroom setting but for a large all-online class that wasn’t going to work. So I looked into a bunch of different options.
I found Statecraft and liked how it had components that were group-oriented and would also build interaction and community for students who would never actually meet one another, and who felt isolated this semester. I really liked that community component.
It would be too difficult, I decided, for me to be able to monitor some of the other longer-term simulations I considered in online capacity when I had 150 students in the class.
I really liked how Statecraft is very automated but also really interactive; it eased the burden on me. It isn’t just the students interacting with the computer and getting automated feedback. It is a human endeavor with an automated component. That was initially compelling for me.
BUILDING COMMUNITY ONLINE
It worked out really well. My class was broken into two groups and each group had a live zoom call one day a week. In this live class I would do activities related to whatever we were studying: discussions, discussion questions, maybe a mini-lesson. Then the students would have 20 to 30 minutes with their Statecraft group.
So every week, at least in class (and I know they did a lot out of class as well) they would be with the same people week after week after week. In this really big class where they didn’t get to meet a lot of people this semester, they at least knew 6 or 7 students pretty well. That was great.
Overall it led to some really fun back and forth, especially on zoom. The students would be ragging on each other in the chat as we were talking and it created good inside jokes for the class. Again, that led us to build community that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
TOP THREE BENEFITS
LEARNING SUCCESS INDICATORS
They had weekly quizzes where they had to write a short answers. For example, we had been talking about norms in international relations and they were able to apply that concept in the simulation. When I asked a question like: “In your Statecraft simulation what is one norm that you think has emerged, have there been any rogue states?”
Students would respond: “Oh well, I know that this was a norm, here’s a norm and I know that it was a norm because of this and this person violated it and we saw this reaction.”
It gave me a way to assess whether they were able to apply concepts outside of the exact sentences that were within the textbook. I saw them make connections.
BIG CLASS ASSESSMENTS
In a big class like this that has students outside of the major my students have a really broad range of backgrounds. Some of them will be really familiar with, say, post World War II history, or are WWI buffs… and then others are asking: “There was something called the Cold War… what is that?” This broad background range makes it hard for me in terms of designing exams. It makes it difficult to assess what I had given them.
With Statecraft they all came in at the same place and I was able to actually assess: “Ok, how were you able to apply this theory in this way?” That was awesome!
I really, really liked that element of using the simulation.
I had two parallel worlds that didn’t interact with each other. Sometimes I would briefly share what was happening in the other world in the other class, just in a sentence or two. But they were never in the same, not even in the zoom room, and they got the same information from me every week.
Despite that the worlds diverged a LOT. They were so different, it was a very interesting result! One of the worlds was very cooperative, and worked cooperatively on technology and scientific innovation. They established a league of democracies and they worked diplomacy. That’s where they were successful, but that group didn’t manage to solve some of the collective security problems. They didn’t manage to eliminate terrorism, for example.
Then the other group, when the simulation ended they were in a full-blown entangling alliances WW1 situation. However they did manage to eliminate terrorism as well as the pirates.
So I wondered if it was because they were just different personalities? But the classes, you know, 70+ people in each group is a lot! And they were assigned randomly to the different groups.
It was very interesting… given different initial starting conditions you can go really different directions. That was fun and surprising for me!
It definitely created teaching opportunities. When we did our debriefs at the end of the semester I debriefed each group on the other simulation as well. We talked through things like domestic regime types and the importance of the individual leader personalities in foreign policy making.
It also prompted a conversation about neighbors because we had the different maps and they chose different regime types. So there were questions like: How much of a security threat is your neighbor vs someone is further away? How do neighbors affect your initial foreign policy strategy? It was an interesting lesson.
I think the vast majority of students enjoyed it. Being on zoom calls is kind of a drag. It made that element a lot more fun for a lot of students.
I know some really really got into it, there were a few that didn’t and it stressed them out… but I think anything would have stressed those students out. I could tell that the very engaged students who always had their cameras on found it really interesting and had a lot to say about it.
CHALLENGES & SOLUTIONS
I didn’t have good logistics for memos at the beginning of the semester, so that was really challenging. Initially it was difficult for me to easily know week by week what had happened. I had some challenges with the memos because there were a lot. I tried to give students a break. I always had them writing me on Monday morning saying “Oh I forgot to submit my memo, can I still do it?”
I had to say: “Well, you can’t. That’s not the way the system is designed.”
So created a work-around to accept late memos. I ended up using our university learning management system. Plus I had to develop a strategy to decide which memos to read: for example, figure out who was the president and always read their memos.
Next time I’ll do memos via my Learning Management System and try to make policies clearer. I got better at that as the semester went on, and I learned how to use the interaction log. The next time I’ll be better at my memo strategy.
WORDS OF WISDOM
To deal with the policies challenge I mentioned: I would use the conditional release material in my learning management system to make students read and agree to policies. So the first day, or maybe the second week of Statecraft, I would put up an “Expectations of Statecraft” quiz that they had to take before they could access the next bit of material. It would say things like: “I understand that I have to write a memo every week and this is when it’s due.” A checklist making those expectations really clear in a way that can’t be missed.
Another recommendation: using Statecraft materials should be incorporated right from the beginning. I didn’t figure this out until about halfway through the simulation. The quiz questions or short essay questions or that sort of thing; use them from turn 1 or 2.
THE HELP TEAM
I worked with the customer service team and they were incredibly responsive. When I had questions they were always answered.
Joe came to both of my classes and that was great. I wish I had done that earlier, it helped students a lot.
Maybe not on the first day, but a week after I introduced it I would ask someone from Statecraft to come speak to the class the next week when they’re all confused and just starting out.
I am not going to be teaching this class for another few semesters because of a sabbatical but I wish I was because I want to do it again! I will do it again.
DR. KRISTIN VEKASI
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