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Finding the Balance in Public Policy Simulations and Role Playing
Unformatted Document Text:  Patricia O’Reilly, APSA, TLC, Feb 23, 2008 Given the student feedback and the knowledge I see demonstrated on the final assignments for exams of the courses in which I have run simulations, I have expanded my use of simulations within my courses, weighting the balance more toward the simulations than I had when I began teaching political science. I feel comfortable doing this because of the balance between my courses and the other political science courses in the student’s degree. Most of my students’ courses conform to the traditional lecture/seminar/tutorial mode and they tend to be taught predominantly with the traditional teaching methods over the entire course of their degree, so the simulation helps offset that standardization. Overall though, it is important to keep a simulation/course balance. The simulation is only one element of a course and it needs to be integrated into the theoretical framework of the course. As one student put it, “Overall I found the simulation to be a great hands-on assignment. I also believe that without the theory learned in class we would not have been able to effectively execute or understand the simulation exercise. In my opinion, without the rational decision-making methods that we learned, we as a group would have lost complete control of the flow of the simulation. Even though at times things got carried away, we were able to bring it back on track.” BALANCING THE STAGES OF YOUR SIMULATION As the literature on political science simulations points out, it is important to the quality of the simulation to distinguish between, and construct the elements of, the different stages (loosely, pre-simulation, simulation, and post-simulation) of an interactive person-to-person simulation. (e.g., Asal and Blake 2006, Wheeler 2006) The approach I have found most useful is to balance out the elements of each stage, as follows, 1) Pre-simulation (including early preparation and a week1 intra-group and full class collaboration session, 2) Simulation exercises (including a week 2 Inter-group negotiation session and a week 3 Inter-group meeting, and 3) Post-simulation (including a debriefing exercise or assignment). Experience has taught me, as it has others in the literature, that it is important to prepare the students for the simulation, both psychologically and academically. Psychologically it is important to explain to the students that you are introducing an element of unpredictability into the course and they will likely find this somewhat unsettling but it will not affect their final grade. The education literature refers to this student discomfort (Wheeler, S, 2006, p.4) and some authors have noted that some students have trouble adapting to different learning experiences (Storrs and Inderbitzen, 2006). I make it a point to warn my students that, depending on their personality type, some of them will find it frustrating to have to “go with the flow” but a) we are 6

Authors: O'Reilly, Patricia.
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Patricia O’Reilly, APSA, TLC, Feb 23, 2008
Given the student feedback and the knowledge I see demonstrated on the final assignments for
exams of the courses in which I have run simulations, I have expanded my use of simulations
within my courses, weighting the balance more toward the simulations than I had when I began
teaching political science. I feel comfortable doing this because of the balance between my
courses and the other political science courses in the student’s degree. Most of my students’
courses conform to the traditional lecture/seminar/tutorial mode and they tend to be taught
predominantly with the traditional teaching methods over the entire course of their degree, so the
simulation helps offset that standardization.
Overall though, it is important to keep a simulation/course balance. The simulation is only one
element of a course and it needs to be integrated into the theoretical framework of the course. As
one student put it, “Overall I found the simulation to be a great hands-on assignment. I also
believe that without the theory learned in class we would not have been able to effectively
execute or understand the simulation exercise. In my opinion, without the rational decision-
making methods that we learned, we as a group would have lost complete control of the flow of
the simulation. Even though at times things got carried away, we were able to bring it back on
track.”
BALANCING THE STAGES OF YOUR SIMULATION
As the literature on political science simulations points out, it is important to the quality of the
simulation to distinguish between, and construct the elements of, the different stages (loosely,
pre-simulation, simulation, and post-simulation) of an interactive person-to-person simulation.
(e.g., Asal and Blake 2006, Wheeler 2006) The approach I have found most useful is to balance
out the elements of each stage, as follows,
1)
Pre-simulation (including early preparation and a week1 intra-group and full class
collaboration session,
2) Simulation exercises (including a week 2 Inter-group negotiation session and a week 3
Inter-group meeting, and
3)
Post-simulation (including a debriefing exercise or assignment).
Experience has taught me, as it has others in the literature, that it is important to prepare the
students for the simulation, both psychologically and academically. Psychologically it is
important to explain to the students that you are introducing an element of unpredictability into
the course and they will likely find this somewhat unsettling but it will not affect their final
grade. The education literature refers to this student discomfort (Wheeler, S, 2006, p.4) and some
authors have noted that some students have trouble adapting to different learning experiences
(Storrs and Inderbitzen, 2006). I make it a point to warn my students that, depending on their
personality type, some of them will find it frustrating to have to “go with the flow” but a) we are
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