Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences (GERMANY)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN13 Proceedings
Publication year: 2013
Page: 1892 (abstract only)
ISBN: 978-84-616-3822-2
ISSN: 2340-1117
Conference name: 5th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 1-3 July, 2013
Location: Barcelona, Spain
This paper considers a type of active learning approach in undergraduate IR and political science teaching – role-play simulation of international negotiations. The existing literature on simulations has been mostly advertising the benefits of active learning techniques and discussing applications suitable for different audiences and pedagogical goals. This is so because active learning approach is still seen as innovative and competes with more conventional, safer and less time-consuming ways of teaching. However, since it is gaining more acceptance and wider use, a more analytical take is warranted.
Among the major benefits of active learning, higher level of engagement, motivation and enthusiasm is foreshadowed by its proponents (for ex., Bonwell & Eison 1991; Brown & King 2000; Coffey et al. 2011, McCarthy & Anderson 2000). While it is admitted that the student-oriented aspect of simulations bears potential dangers (such as bad preparation, undeveloped leadership skills and low levels of students’ interest in the subject, see Asal et al. 2013), it remains to consider the effects of role-play on students’ motivation in the framework of the whole course and to ponder on the optimal level of regulation of student-driven activities.
I address these issues by critically reviewing recent literature and discussing two runs of a role-play simulation I organized in an undergraduate IR seminar. The event simulated is the international conference in Algeciras in 1906, which ended the First Moroccan Crisis. Students are ascribed individual roles, readings are personalized and students have (set for themselves) personal goals to attain. Thus, they act as members of their country team, but also have their own agenda and try to reconcile divergent interests while simultaneously negotiating with other teams.
The paper discusses first the issue of choosing the optimal level of regulation (students’ discretion) and on this aspect compares the ‘Algeciras’ simulation to similar role-plays described in the literature. It then focuses on students’ motivation in the preparation and carrying out of the simulation, as well as in the course as a whole. Supporting that motivation is a crucial aspect of learning success, I argue that, when concentrated around one particular event in the course, it poses serious challenges for the instructor and students. Thus, there is a risk of strong emotional reactions in competitive games, which may lead to a rejection of the learning experience. Or, when the simulation is relatively long and is not organized at the very end of the course, students may suffer from a ‘burn-out’ once it is over.

Asal, V., J. Conrad, S Sin & P. Harwood (2013). Teaching about the End of the World. 2013 APSA Teaching and Learning Conference Paper
Bonwell, Ch. & J. Eison (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom ASHEEric Higher Education Report. Washington, D.C.: George Washington University
Brown, S. & F. King (2000). Constructivist Pedagogy and How We Learn: Educational Psychology Meets International Studies. International Studies Perspectives 1/3, 245-54
Coffey, D., W. Miller & D. Feuerstein (2011). Classroom as Reality: Demonstrating Campaign Effects Through Live Simulation. Journal of Political Science Education 7, 14-33
McCarthy, J. & L. Anderson (2000). Active Learning Techniques Versus Traditional Teaching Styles: Two Experiments from History and Political Science. Innovative Higher Education 24/4, 279-94
Simulation, active learning, role-play, motivation, course design.