Case Study Dr Kristin Vekasi

case study

Builds Community, Creates Learning Connections & Aids in Assessments

Abstract

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.

INTERVIEW DATE

Fall 2020, December 16th

INSTRUCTOR INFO

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. 

CURRENTLY RUNNING

Dr. Kristin Vekaski Headshot

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

WHY STATECRAFT?

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.

PARALLEL WORLDS

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!

TEACHING OPPORTUNITIES

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.

FUN FACTOR

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

Experience Statecraft for Yourself

These awesome results are available for your class too! Book your demo today to get a personalized tour and have all your questions answered. Or read on for more information about the International Relations Simulation or International Relations Lite Simulation products.  

Case Study Dr Cigdem Sirin

case study

Worth It: Sim Creates Emotional Connections to Course Material​​

Abstract

When Dr. Cigdem Sirin’s fully online asynchronous course moved from a 7 to a 16-week format, she felt the need to add something to her curriculum to create engagement and excitement. She decided to give Statecraft a try, but had some concerns. Would it work?

Fortunately, she was pleased with the results! She saw increased engagement and peer connection in the virtual world. The simulation created a way for students to apply what they were learning and make connections to course material. The dramatic situations created emotional responses that foster empathy for real-world problems countries experience. She’s confident the high engagement and emotional connection will also equate to long-term knowledge retention. Plus, Statecraft support took care of all of her technical concerns. 

At the conclusion of the sim, she is glad she gave Statecraft a chance. The benefits for she and her students outweighed the costs.

INTERVIEW DATE

Fall 2020, November 18th

INSTRUCTOR INFO

Dr. Cigdem Sirin is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Director for the Center for Faculty Leadership and Development at the University of Texas at El Paso. She’s been teaching for 12 years. This was her first semester using the Statecraft International Relations (IR) Simulation. 

CURRENTLY RUNNING

Dr. Cigdem Sirin Photo

At the end I was very pleased, I liked it! The way students wrote their weekly memos I could see that they enjoyed the simulation and they did engage with their peers.

The risk paid off. I am happy that I took a chance with the simulation because it really gave me that missing engagement piece in a remote environment.

DR. CIGDEM SIRIN

WHY STATECRAFT?

I had two main motivators:

First, I felt the need to find creative, innovative ways to engage the students and create interaction. I’m teaching this IR course fully online and fully asynchronous. In a pandemic we all feel very isolated, we lack the human contact that would happen in a face-to-face class. In a simulation like this they’re part of a team. They not only have to interact with their team members but also engage in negotiations and discussions with other teams. It’s the perfect platform to give them peer-to-peer interaction.

Second, my class had a shift from a 7-week compact format to a 16-week full-term format. I thought it would feel monotone if I dragged the same 7-week content out for 16 weeks. I wanted something to fill that time gap.

I wanted Statecraft to be an extra bonus for students that would augment my existing material and introduce excitement. 

RISKS & REWARDS

The Statecraft simulation worked very well!

I was dreading it, to be honest. While I was finalizing my syllabus before the semester began, I thought: “Do I really want to do this simulation for the first time? What if it doesn’t work? What if it’s not good? What if we don’t have enough support?”

I took a risk! Every time you try something new in your course you’re taking a risk, especially if the course is doing well already.

One of my concerns was that there would be technical glitches and I would end up playing the role of tech person. But that didn’t happen. Statecraft support was great. Joe is amazing. He even came to the live information session that I created.

At the end I was very pleased, I liked it! Every week I asked students to provide simulation memos, like little journals. The way that they wrote those memos I could see that they really enjoyed the simulation and they did engage with their peers.

The risk paid off. I am happy that I took a chance with the simulation because it really gave me that missing engagement piece in a remote environment.

LET’S HAVE FUN!

This is a game, it’s a lot more fun than interacting through discussion posts! 

Of course there is an incentive for them to be invested since a portion of their grade will depend on their actions in the simulation. But I told them that our first and foremost priority is to have fun; to use this simulation as a fun opportunity to learn.

I set the ground rules at the beginning: “Let’s have fun; keep it cool.”

Setting this tone kept them engaged and it did keep it fun.

LEARNING SUCCESS INDICATORS

I asked questions for the simulation memos like: “How is your country doing right now? What strategies did you apply? Are there connections to the course material?” I really liked reading student responses when they said things like: 

“Oh, look! This is the security dilemma that we just read about. Oh, look! This is prisoner’s dilemma. Oh, look! This is hegemony; this is bandwagoning; this is power balancing.“ 

I loved hearing these words because these things do happen in the real realm of international relations and they are making those connections.

APPLICATION OF COURSE MATERIAL

A top benefit is the application of course material. Students were able to draw connections and then get excited as they saw themselves manifest the course concepts in a simulated world. 

They kept saying, “I like how we are applying what we learn.” 

They are not just reading about how to ride a bike, they are actually “riding a bike” in a sense. I like that application component of the simulation. 

REAL EMOTIONS, REAL ENGAGEMENT

Emotions are real. Even if it’s a simulation, emotions are real. The more students get into the simulation, the higher the emotions.

Just this week in one of my countries the president got impeached. Yes, she got removed from office and she said “This was because of my power-hungry colleagues.”

I talked to the students involved and they said “Don’t worry, professor, it’s part of our master plan.” They were planning an unexpected surprise attack and it was part of their scenario. Imagine: what if it was a real life impeachment? They didn’t think the president of their country was doing a good job and so they successfully removed the president!

These dramatic situations can happen. Some students may take it way seriously, and it may be on the verge of a real-life tension. So you have to check in on your students, monitor the situation and act as mitigator sometimes to make sure that everybody still understands this is a game and there shouldn’t be personal attacks.

IT’S NOT FAIR!

Part of the simulation experience is replicating what actually happens in real life international relations. In the memos one student said “Well they’re ganging up on us and they’re sharing technologies, and it’s not really fair.” You know what? International relations is not fair.

Think about G7, or the European Union. I gave the example of Turkey, my country of origin. Turkey has wanted to be part of the European Union for a long time. It still has its bid for member status but I don’t see a wedding in their near future. Of course they want to be part of the European Union; it’s an organization where countries share technologies and have free movement of people. That’s just one example of how some other countries may think “It’s not fair! They have this nice quality of life, this nice coalition, this nice set-up and I’m losing from it.” G7: again, it’s the same situation where a bunch of developed nations are taking a much bigger share of the world resources. The other countries may be working hard but they cannot compete, so look what happens.

The students said, “We were going to use our resources to purchase big projects but now that we lost to this gang of nations, we are just going to use it for military.” That’s exactly what happens, right? Radicalization of some countries in the world: they see that there’s no channel for them to do well, so what do they do? They go to black markets, they go rogue.

CREATES EMPATHY

The simulation exposed why some nations are forced to be more militaristic and stay less developed. Now the students better understand that path. 

Their emotions get activated: they’re mad at the other students doing these things… but they’re replicating exactly what happens in the real realm of international relations.

This personal experience with frustrations and challenges creates empathy. That is my research area, so I’m really big on gamification. Serious educational games like this are great tools to create empathy.

KNOWLEDGE RETENTION

I think the simulation will facilitate knowledge retention in the long run. 

For example, now they clearly see the benefits of cooperation. They’ve personally experienced that if it’s an all-conflict, all-out war, Hobbesian type of world, that would be a horrible state of chaos. Now they understand the concept of anarchy with the absence of a central government enforcing decisions in the international realm. It makes them appreciate the value of cooperation and international institutionalism, plus what a big challenge it is for countries.

Many of them have told me, “Now we understand how hard it is to achieve cooperation in foreign policy and international relations.” 

ONLINE challenges & benefits

This class is fully asynchronous so it was hard for my students to find a common time to meet on a regular basis. I was impressed, though, the students did find a way to make it work. 

Next time I’m teaching this course, ideally I could have it be a hybrid synchronous/asynchronous online format with set meeting times. Having set time reserved that students could use for Statecraft activities would make life easier. 

Despite this challenge, the simulation does offer the benefit of having the interaction that you usually lack in a fully online environment. 

WORDS OF WISDOM

The collective action problem is part of the risk of team-based learning. The benefits are very high, but there’s always the risk that some will try to exploit the situation and be a free rider. 

Peer evaluations are important to monitor the situation; that would be a piece of advice I can offer to other instructors. By supplementing the individual memos with the peer evaluations, you send the message that this is not a team project where everybody gets the same grade; everyone will be graded individually on their participation.

Within the simulation there are protections embedded, plus if you instill these key monitoring mechanisms you can overcome that hurdle.

You also have to set ground rules from the very beginning because there will be a lot of interaction; including interaction that you cannot trace. They will be having both public and private meetings. Some things will be posted as manifestos or public exchanges, but many interactions happen behind the scenes. You just want to monitor the situation. Log in on a regular basis and engage with the students. 

favorite features

I’m happy that I took that risk, it’s a good simulation!

DR. CIGDEM SIRIN

Experience Statecraft for Yourself

These awesome results are available for your class too! Book your demo today to get a personalized tour and have all your questions answered. Or read on for more information about the International Relations Simulation or International Relations Lite Simulation products.  

Case Study Jilani-Hyler

case study

Improves Engagement, Forces Critical Thinking & Creates Connection

Abstract

Instructor Nadia Jilani-Hyler found Statecraft when looking for a way to increase engagement in a summer class with long hours. The students “had an absolute blast” and she discovered how useful a simulation can be as a teaching tool. 

Using a Statecraft simulation not only achieves her goal of increasing engagement but also requires critical thinking, which is hard to teach. As she plays the role of political advisor, she sees her students struggle with the “grey area” in the simulation. Their questions and stress demonstrate that they are experiencing lesson topics in a personal way and actually learning. The students who step up and take on leadership roles can be surprising. Often it’s not the “straight-A” students who most excel in the sim; it’s the students who can navigate ambiguity and get excited about a game learning format. 

This year with the move to an all-online class format the simulation has been a huge help by creating a sense of connection for students in large 200+ student asynchronous digital classrooms.

INTERVIEW DATE

Fall 2020, November 12th

INSTRUCTOR INFO

Nadia Jilani-Hyler has been a political science Lecturer at Augusta University in Georgia for the past five years. She has used both the Statecraft International Relations (IR) simulation and the Statecraft U.S. Government simulation in at least five classes. She was a beta tester for the U.S. Government simulation in 2018.

Instructor Jilani-Hyler is currently running the
U.S. GOV LITE SIMULATION IN THREE CLASSES

Dr. Nadia Jilani-Hyler Headshot

I like that the simulation encourages critical thinking because I want my students to be informed citizens who are able to navigate the government system. I approach the class as a way to teach them that they know enough to make decisions. To show up and vote. To volunteer for a campaign.

NADIA JILANI-HYLER

WHY STATECRAFT?

I started using the IR Simulation from Statecraft when I was teaching an International Relations summer class that met five days a week in long three-hour blocks. I wanted something that would break up the lectures and still be engaging material.  

The students absolutely loved it, they had a blast. It made me realize how useful simulations can be in the classroom.

When I started teaching American Government for the first time here at Augusta University I sought out a simulation I could use. First I tried “World of Politics” which is a set of digital sim materials I had to administer. It was really clunky and so much work I gave it up after one semester. 

Then in 2018 I saw the U.S. Government Sim mentioned on the Statecraft website. When I talked to Joe he said it was in beta testing and I was so eager to find something that I asked “Well, can my students do the beta testing!?” I’ve used it almost every semester since then. 

DOES THE SIM MAKE YOUR JOB EASIER?

Yes! Playing the U.S. Government Simulation is a type of experiential learning that teaches students aspects of how American Government works. 

If they’re playing the role of a member of congress, for example, they realize by playing the role how complicated BEING a member of congress is. That your time is split between trying to pass legislation and seeking reelection. That both of those things are connected in some ways but are also disparate in a lot of ways too.

The intricacies and complexities between varying interests are very difficult to just talk about in a lecture or read about in a textbook. In the sim the students actually experience this complexity.

gamifying learning

It’s almost like each student has a piece of a puzzle that they have to put together to solve the terrorist problem, for example. They have to be good, diligent communicators to be able to avert that crisis. While also trying to keep public opinion in their court, not only for the president’s reelection but also in case they want to use strategies like bulk data collection and military tribunals and things like that. 

The sim enhances student’s understanding of American Government even if they don’t necessarily realize it. They just think that they are playing a game.

LEARNING SUCCESS INDICATORS

The students get very stressed out by the difficult decisions they have to make and they are not sure what the right answer is. When they email me asking me what to do, I respond “This is how our elected officials have to be feeling! They don’t necessarily know the right answer; they’re having to guess the right answer a lot of the time too!”

The student’s stress, their struggles and their questions are big indicators that they feel the impact of the simulation and are learning lessons in a way they wouldn’t get from a lecture.

CREATES CONNECTION

My large classes are asynchronous with all 220 students online. Making these classes more engaging and giving the students some sense of connectedness was really important to me.

For most of these students, it’s their very first semester and their introduction to what college is going to be like. Most of them don’t know each other. They’ve been thrown into a very strange new environment and on top of that COVID19 is happening.

Imagine going to a party and you don’t know anybody; how can you get to know the other people in the room with you? One thing that you can do is play a game! 

Statecraft is that icebreaker party trick: a game that I can use to get the students talking together and interacting with each other.

ENCOURAGES CONVERSATION

They can voice their opinions or take a stance on things like military tribunals or bulk data collection, which are real world issues, but it’s a fake world in which we’re applying them. That gives them a little bit of anonymity that feels very protective when you’re discussing online.

The simulation gives students something that’s not the real world to talk about; it’s a safe opportunity for them to speak out more.

TEACHES CRITICAL THINKING

The critical thinking aspect is a major benefit of the simulation. Critical thinking and problem solving are difficult to teach, especially in an intro-level American Government class. 

I like that the simulation encourages critical thinking because I want my students to be informed citizens who are able to navigate the government system. I approach the class as a way to teach them that they know enough to make decisions. To show up and vote. To volunteer for a campaign. 

NEW LEADERS ARISE IN THE GREY AREA

Augusta University is a Science and Health oriented school, so most of my students are majoring in scientific fields and they’re used to black and white answers, constants. From day one I teach my students that politics isn’t that! It’s the opposite of black and white. It’s a grey area.

I love that there is a lot of grey area built into the sim. It can push some of my straight-A students—who are used to rote memorization and things being black and white—to a point where they can’t make a decision because they aren’t sure which one is the “right” decision. Sometimes the “best” students in the class feel out of their element playing a game like this so they might not be the ones who really excel at it.

The students who end up stepping up, taking on leadership roles and truly engaging are sometimes a surprise. It might be the students who have been struggling who have finally found something that they can engage with and that excites them. That’s an aspect of the sim experience that’s really interesting.

THE TEACHING OPPORTUNITIES

I frequently end up playing the role of political advisor for my students. When they do have questions about what the right move is going to be I typically won’t tell them “This is the right move…” but I will say “Ok, well, these are your options and let’s talk about what all the possible consequences of your options are in relation to your goals and what you want to accomplish.”

I usually launch the sim after we’ve covered the three branches of government or at least the two branches that are playing in the game. That means we’re playing while we’re talking about elections, campaigns, and the media impact on politics. 

I can pull the game into lectures and say “Just like my media players are learning the media can have a profound impact on what’s happening in the world by choosing to run a story or not run a story…” for example

FAVORITE TECH & TOOLS​

THE STATECRAFT EXPERIENCE

My experience with the Statecraft Customer Service team has been fantastic. Ross was assigned to my class this time and he’s always there responding to student concerns and questions. If there seemed to be a glitch he would react to it immediately. Having that kind of support was huge, especially with 220 students.

I’ve had a really positive experience with Statecraft going back many years and I hope that they continue to update and improve these sims.

WORDS OF WISDOM

My advice for a teacher launching Statecraft for the first time is: Be engaged yourself! It probably could run without you, but you’re not getting the full understanding of how your students are engaging with it if you’re not engaging yourself.

Experience Statecraft for Yourself

These awesome results are available for your class too! Book your demo today to get a personalized tour and have all your questions answered. Or read on for more information about the U.S. Government Simulation or U.S. Government Lite Simulation products.  

DON'T LEAVE WITH QUESTIONS

We have answers and ideas for you.

If you’re still looking for info, make sure to book your personalized demo today! Along with a product tour, we’ll chat about how your sim of interest can work best for your unique class situation.

Blue Statecraft Simulations Fireworks