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Collaborative Learning in Course Simulations
Unformatted Document Text:  Van Vechten, 3 semester, and Government and International Relations students may take it to fulfill the American Institutions requirement for the major. STRUCTURAL OVERVIEW, SEMESTER 1 (Fall 2005) Because the Congress course was added late to the list of Fall 2005 courses, enrollment was lower than the normal cap of 20. Final tally: 16. Class met twice a week for an hour and twenty minutes at a time with the professor acting as coordinator. Literature-based, theory-heavy learning was loaded into the front-end of the semester, and tapered off after the midterm exam to allow the simulation to expand (see syllabus from Fall 2005, attached). The simulation was rooted in several source materials, including L. Cohen Bell’s guidebook, The U.S. Congress, A Simulation for Students (Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005) which was assigned. Supplemental items covering Congressional rules, regulations, and expectations for the simulation were supplied as needed or made available through the course website (Blackboard). My own “simulation packet” was an amalgamated version of material borrowed from Eric R.A.N. Smith’s simulation (UCSB), David King’s (Harvard), and Noelle Norton’s (USD). (Available by request). DESCRIPTIVE ELEMENTS of the SIMULATION: STEP BY STEP ASSIGNMENTS: Members and Committees. The assignment of roles takes place midway through the first month and represents the first important move of the simulation. Students choose from a pre-selected list of House members, most of whom actually sit on one of the two House committees that will be later simulated (two of the largest House committees, Energy and Commerce, and Judiciary, are good fits for their jurisdiction and number of interesting and powerful characters who populate them). 2 Students are given the option of finding a member not on the list, but all role assignments are subject to the partisan, geographic, gender, and committee membership balances that need to be approximated. In the interest of promoting greater familiarity across the House membership, students are discouraged from choosing their own representative or one they already know a good deal about. 3 After students have indicated their top choices (with the help of a worksheet in the Bell book and a list of members the coordinator supplies; see next paragraph), the coordinator assigns roles with the goal of approximating some of the major splits and cleavages that exist in Congress -- arguably the trickiest task to be performed. To undertake the “balancing act” that will set the stage for future policy and partisan conflicts, the members must first be split into two or three committees (depending on class size). 4 In committee, the majority party must outnumber the minority party by at least one or two; gender should be taken into account (women will almost inevitably need to play male roles); geographically there ought to be representation of all major regions, with at least two or more 2 Members do not have to be drawn from the two committees, but using actual committee lists cuts down on the coordinator s balancing act of finding appropriate members to sit on both committees. 3 There is an equally compelling argument, however, that students should actually choose their own representative, as it might make them pay closer attention to politics at home. But to reinforce the original point, one student mentioned that she appreciated having to research a district she knew nothing about: I got to learn about Utah I never thought about Utah before. (!) 4 I have found that for smaller classes, two smaller committees serves students better by giving them more opportunity to delve into legislation.

Authors: Van Vechten, Renee.
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Van Vechten, 3
semester, and Government and International Relations students may take it to fulfill the
American Institutions requirement for the major.
STRUCTURAL OVERVIEW, SEMESTER 1 (Fall 2005)
Because the Congress course was added late to the list of Fall 2005 courses, enrollment was
lower than the normal cap of 20. Final tally: 16. Class met twice a week for an hour and twenty
minutes at a time with the professor acting as coordinator. Literature-based, theory-heavy
learning was loaded into the front-end of the semester, and tapered off after the midterm exam to
allow the simulation to expand (see syllabus from Fall 2005, attached).
The simulation was rooted in several source materials, including L. Cohen Bell’s guidebook,
The
U.S. Congress, A Simulation for Students (Thomson/Wadsworth, 2005) which was
assigned.
Supplemental items covering Congressional rules, regulations, and expectations for the
simulation were supplied as needed or made available through the course website (Blackboard).
My own “simulation packet” was an amalgamated version of material borrowed from Eric
R.A.N. Smith’s simulation (UCSB), David King’s (Harvard), and Noelle Norton’s (USD).
(Available by request).
DESCRIPTIVE ELEMENTS of the SIMULATION: STEP BY STEP
ASSIGNMENTS: Members and Committees. The assignment of roles takes place midway
through the first month and represents the first important move of the simulation. Students
choose from a pre-selected list of House members, most of whom actually sit on one of the two
House committees that will be later simulated (two of the largest House committees, Energy and
Commerce, and Judiciary, are good fits for their jurisdiction and number of interesting and
powerful characters who populate them).
Students are given the option of finding a member not
on the list, but all role assignments are subject to the partisan, geographic, gender, and committee
membership balances that need to be approximated. In the interest of promoting greater
familiarity across the House membership, students are discouraged from choosing their own
representative or one they already know a good deal about.
After students have indicated their top choices (with the help of a worksheet in the Bell book and
a list of members the coordinator supplies; see next paragraph), the coordinator assigns roles
with the goal of approximating some of the major splits and cleavages that exist in Congress --
arguably the trickiest task to be performed.
To undertake the “balancing act” that will set the stage for future policy and partisan conflicts,
the members must first be split into two or three committees (depending on class size).
committee, the majority party must outnumber the minority party by at least one or two; gender
should be taken into account (women will almost inevitably need to play male roles);
geographically there ought to be representation of all major regions, with at least two or more
2
Members do not have to be drawn from the two committees, but using actual committee lists cuts down on the
coordinator s balancing act of finding appropriate members to sit on both committees.
3
There is an equally compelling argument, however, that students should actually choose their own representative,
as it might make them pay closer attention to politics at home. But to reinforce the original point, one student
mentioned that she appreciated having to research a district she knew nothing about: I got to learn about Utah I
never thought about Utah before. (!)
4
I have found that for smaller classes, two smaller committees serves students better by giving them more
opportunity to delve into legislation.


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