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Collaborative Learning in Course Simulations
Unformatted Document Text:  Van Vechten, 4 students assigned to larger states like California; and seniority – with a couple of new members and some more senior members – should also be taken into account. After students have completed their member profiles and briefly introduced themselves in character, partisans caucus together to discuss leadership positions. 5 The Speaker, majority leader, minority leaders, and committee chairs will be elected on the day that bills are due, about two weeks later. In this simulation, the Congress member’s most important duty is legislative: students may either write a bill or select an actual bill that their member has introduced (or would likely introduce), and they must shepherd it through committee and the floor process (if it makes it that far). Two class periods following the midterm essay exam are devoted to the first committee hearings, run entirely by the students. Bills are taken up, the authors questioned, “witnesses” are called (in this iteration, fellow House members), and the bills are marked up accordingly. At this stage it usually becomes apparent that the authors need to do further research to be able to handle the questioning by their peers, which can become quite engrossing, serious, and at times theatrical; it is up to the students to decide how to treat minority bills, how long to work on any particular piece of legislation, and/or how thoroughly they will engage their roles. They are aware that their participation grade depends on their faithful performance at each stage of the simulation, which is enough incentive for most of the students to “get into” their roles. The committee hearings produce an agenda for the floor session to come. Even if some (minority party) students have been unable to move their own legislation, they will have ample opportunity to try to amend or comment on the bills that do make it to the floor. Along the way, parties meet in caucus as needed, usually in class. Floor session is the culmination of everyone’s efforts (though I’ve found that this realization does not usually crystallize until the conclusion of session); this is where students can fully play their individual characters as representatives, as bill authors, as partisans. At least three to four hours are required for this final step, which commences with the opening of Congress, a prayer by a chaplain (an invited guest usually), and so forth. The mood is set with session held in a larger or different space (a small lecture hall, for example, instead of the usual classroom), and with Congress members sporting business attire. The first hour tends to be awkward as students become accustomed to the formalities of parliamentary procedure and the process of considering legislation, but it begins to flow as students ease into their roles and practice their objections and responses. The second day usually flows more smoothly. The chance to call up arcane rules is always present; however, it takes an extraordinary student to research the possibilities and to employ them. The simulation ends with a debriefing and assessment. An open class discussion centers on practical and theoretical lessons learned, guided by the coordinator who can refresh the conversation by referencing the literature on Congress. Students are given the chance to rate their peers (“Whose performance most/least impressed you?” etc.) and evaluate their own experience; they also complete two separate course evaluation forms (one generated by me, the other by the university). As one would expect, some students are more candid with their immediate reactions to the limitations they encountered, and it is this feedback, along with 5 Because the Speaker plays an enhanced role that requires extra time to coordinate some actions in and out of class, the selection of this person is critical; if necessary, the coordinator may need to help designate a leader ahead of time.

Authors: Van Vechten, Renee.
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Van Vechten, 4
students assigned to larger states like California; and seniority – with a couple of new members
and some more senior members – should also be taken into account.
After students have completed their member profiles and briefly introduced themselves in
character, partisans caucus together to discuss leadership positions.
The Speaker, majority
leader, minority leaders, and committee chairs will be elected on the day that bills are due, about
two weeks later.
In this simulation, the Congress member’s most important duty is legislative: students may either
write a bill or select an actual bill that their member has introduced (or would likely introduce),
and they must shepherd it through committee and the floor process (if it makes it that far). Two
class periods following the midterm essay exam are devoted to the first committee hearings, run
entirely by the students. Bills are taken up, the authors questioned, “witnesses” are called (in this
iteration, fellow House members), and the bills are marked up accordingly. At this stage it
usually becomes apparent that the authors need to do further research to be able to handle the
questioning by their peers, which can become quite engrossing, serious, and at times theatrical; it
is up to the students to decide how to treat minority bills, how long to work on any particular
piece of legislation, and/or how thoroughly they will engage their roles. They are aware that
their participation grade depends on their faithful performance at each stage of the simulation,
which is enough incentive for most of the students to “get into” their roles.
The committee hearings produce an agenda for the floor session to come. Even if some
(minority party) students have been unable to move their own legislation, they will have ample
opportunity to try to amend or comment on the bills that do make it to the floor. Along the way,
parties meet in caucus as needed, usually in class.
Floor session is the culmination of everyone’s efforts (though I’ve found that this realization
does not usually crystallize until the conclusion of session); this is where students can fully play
their individual characters as representatives, as bill authors, as partisans. At least three to four
hours are required for this final step, which commences with the opening of Congress, a prayer
by a chaplain (an invited guest usually), and so forth. The mood is set with session held in a
larger or different space (a small lecture hall, for example, instead of the usual classroom), and
with Congress members sporting business attire. The first hour tends to be awkward as students
become accustomed to the formalities of parliamentary procedure and the process of considering
legislation, but it begins to flow as students ease into their roles and practice their objections and
responses. The second day usually flows more smoothly. The chance to call up arcane rules is
always present; however, it takes an extraordinary student to research the possibilities and to
employ them.
The simulation ends with a debriefing and assessment. An open class discussion centers on
practical and theoretical lessons learned, guided by the coordinator who can refresh the
conversation by referencing the literature on Congress. Students are given the chance to rate
their peers (“Whose performance most/least impressed you?” etc.) and evaluate their own
experience; they also complete two separate course evaluation forms (one generated by me, the
other by the university). As one would expect, some students are more candid with their
immediate reactions to the limitations they encountered, and it is this feedback, along with
5
Because the Speaker plays an enhanced role that requires extra time to coordinate some actions in and out of class,
the selection of this person is critical; if necessary, the coordinator may need to help designate a leader ahead of
time.


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