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Collaborative Learning in Course Simulations
Unformatted Document Text:  Van Vechten, 5 course evaluations (I usually give one alongside the university’s) that provide information necessary for future improvements. FEEDBACK LOOP: SUGGESTIONS for IMPROVEMENT from SEMESTER 1 While the simulation produced mostly positive feedback about the exercise’s utility, one overarching message about “how to improve” emerged: more externally-imposed dynamics were necessary to create the kinds of decision-making dilemmas that Congress members normally encounter. The procedural lessons were patently clear – from how to introduce bills to oppose amendments – but the members realized that they lacked the usual supporting cast to help them complete their jobs: they had no staff members, were not accountable to their constituents, didn’t have to answer to lobbyists, knew their actions would not be reported, and never faced administrators or White House liaisons. Elements of a nascent whip system did appear and the effects of partisan control were readily apparent, but it was clear that to better the experience, more roles were needed. Considerations and Possible Solutions. Small class size at the University of Redlands necessarily constrains the number of roles that can be cast. It is difficult enough to divide 20 (or fewer) students into two parties and two committees, let alone devise roles for media, personal and committee staff members, constituents, lobbyists, and administrators. The Government Department at the U of R offers, however, a generous number of introductory classes containing a larger pool of potential, supplementary role-players who might also benefit from the experience of interacting with “Congress members.” As it turned out, in Spring 2007 I was scheduled to teach two sections of Introduction to American Politics and the Congress course (as a 3-hour night class). Though one of my colleagues had already agreed to supply me with student “extras” should the need arise (one of the benefits of being at a smaller, teaching-oriented institution is the openness to such innovations), I decided to link my own three classes in an effort to generate those previously-absent cross-pressures, and at the same time, provide hands-on learning experiences for the American Politics students. Those 50 or so students would be assigned the roles of both constituents and lobbyists (two different roles to be played during the semester), and would be given extra credit to appear before the committees as witnesses and/or attend floor session as onlookers. The preparatory work took considerable time. Activities for three classes needed to be coordinated and designed carefully to minimize confusion. Even before the simulation began, it was apparent that this iteration would entail substantial prep work (both on the part of the instructor and of the students) along with diligent record-keeping for it to work smoothly and effectively. STRUCTURAL OVERVIEW, SEMESTER 2 (Spring 2007) By about week three in Spring 2007, enrollments for all three classes had stabilized, and final numbers stood at about 50 students divided between two American Politics courses, and at 19 in Congress. Both syllabi closely followed previous versions in terms of reading (see attached sylllabi) with important differences in the activities designed for that semester. Congress members would now be required to interact with their “constituents,” meaning two or

Authors: Van Vechten, Renee.
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Van Vechten, 5
course evaluations (I usually give one alongside the university’s) that provide information
necessary for future improvements.
FEEDBACK LOOP: SUGGESTIONS for IMPROVEMENT from SEMESTER 1
While the simulation produced mostly positive feedback about the exercise’s utility, one
overarching message about “how to improve” emerged: more externally-imposed dynamics
were necessary to create the kinds of decision-making dilemmas that Congress members
normally encounter. The procedural lessons were patently clear – from how to introduce bills to
oppose amendments – but the members realized that they lacked the usual supporting cast to help
them complete their jobs: they had no staff members, were not accountable to their constituents,
didn’t have to answer to lobbyists, knew their actions would not be reported, and never faced
administrators or White House liaisons. Elements of a nascent whip system did appear and the
effects of partisan control were readily apparent, but it was clear that to better the experience,
more roles were needed.
Considerations and Possible Solutions. Small class size at the University of Redlands
necessarily constrains the number of roles that can be cast. It is difficult enough to divide 20 (or
fewer) students into two parties and two committees, let alone devise roles for media, personal
and committee staff members, constituents, lobbyists, and administrators. The Government
Department at the U of R offers, however, a generous number of introductory classes containing
a larger pool of potential, supplementary role-players who might also benefit from the experience
of interacting with “Congress members.”
As it turned out, in Spring 2007 I was scheduled to teach two sections of Introduction to
American Politics and the Congress course (as a 3-hour night class). Though one of my
colleagues had already agreed to supply me with student “extras” should the need arise (one of
the benefits of being at a smaller, teaching-oriented institution is the openness to such
innovations), I decided to link my own three classes in an effort to generate those previously-
absent cross-pressures, and at the same time, provide hands-on learning experiences for the
American Politics students. Those 50 or so students would be assigned the roles of both
constituents and lobbyists (two different roles to be played during the semester), and would be
given extra credit to appear before the committees as witnesses and/or attend floor session as
onlookers.
The preparatory work took considerable time. Activities for three classes needed to be
coordinated and designed carefully to minimize confusion. Even before the simulation began, it
was apparent that this iteration would entail substantial prep work (both on the part of the
instructor and of the students) along with diligent record-keeping for it to work smoothly and
effectively.
STRUCTURAL OVERVIEW, SEMESTER 2 (Spring 2007)
By about week three in Spring 2007, enrollments for all three classes had stabilized, and final
numbers stood at about 50 students divided between two American Politics courses, and at 19 in
Congress. Both syllabi closely followed previous versions in terms of reading (see attached
sylllabi) with important differences in the activities designed for that semester.
Congress members would now be required to interact with their “constituents,” meaning two or


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