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Collaborative Learning in Course Simulations
Unformatted Document Text:  Van Vechten, 8 an assistant would be entrusted with the busy work of tracking and gathering hundreds of emails, notes, papers, and attendance sheets generated by this interactive simulation. All students had to require written proof of all their activities: their lobbying effort (they had to extract a signature from a Congress member when they made contact, or send a copy of an email), constituent request, responses to requests, and newsletters. It was time-consuming to check them off or verify them at grading time. A good filing system is required. A final note about class scheduling is also in order. Semester 1 was taught twice a week (1:20 each time) while Semester 2 was taught once a week during the 6pm to 8:50pm time slot. Speaking only in terms of the simulation, the three-hour slot seemed to make more sense as it broke up the monotony of a long class and provided flexibility for extra caucus or committee meetings. When the class is taught as a 1:20 class, students tend to feel as if they can’t get much meaningful hands-on work done, and so they spend less time strategizing and more time rushing to conclusions. Students at the end of Semester 2 suggested splitting the class in two parts: as a four-unit, twice-a-week, 1:20 class devoted mostly to the readings and discussion of them -- as it seemed that we rarely had time to discuss all of them in depth, and did not discuss some pieces at all. This would be coupled with a 2-unit simulation exercise (also required, like a lab), which would take place outside the regular class. The lab might meet every other week for a 2-hour time period, for example. I intend to explore this option in Spring 2009. THE ASSESSMENT: Students’ perspective At least five kinds of assessments were performed at several different times to evaluate the students’ overall experiences. I have amalgamated the responses from all sources and reported on them below. Types of Assessments. (1) At the end of both semesters, Congress students wrote a retrospective paper connecting their practical experience with theoretical understanding. The depth of insight in those papers helped indicate the overall effectiveness of the simulation. My evaluation of these papers infuses my overall judgment of the simulation’s value. (2) Students completed U of R course evaluations and my own Congress course evaluations on the last day of class. I have reviewed and reported on these two sets of evaluations from Fall 2005 and Spring 2007. (3) Group discussions. I reviewed my notes from the last day of class, following the concluding floor session in Spring 2007, where students made comments and suggestions about what they learned and how the simulation might be changed or improved.(5) I convened a focus group of “former (recovering?!) Congress members” in early Spring 2008. Six students in a lunchtime gathering shared their thoughts about the longer-term effects of the experience and their memories about the simulation, and two more who couldn’t make it to lunch shared their recollections with me separately. These post-hoc interviews revealed a few insights I hadn’t previously considered. STUDENT RESPONSES: OVERALL VALUE OF THE SIMULATION Congress students were generally enthusiastic about their experience. On a scale of one to four, where 1 was “poor,” 2 was “adequate,” 3 was “good,” and 4 was “excellent,” the 13 student evaluators from Spring 2005 gave their “overall evaluation of this course” a 3.75, compared to 3.67 in Spring 2007 (see Table 1). No one rated the course lower than “good.” Comments such

Authors: Van Vechten, Renee.
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Van Vechten, 8
an assistant would be entrusted with the busy work of tracking and gathering hundreds of emails,
notes, papers, and attendance sheets generated by this interactive simulation. All students had to
require written proof of all their activities: their lobbying effort (they had to extract a signature
from a Congress member when they made contact, or send a copy of an email), constituent
request, responses to requests, and newsletters. It was time-consuming to check them off or
verify them at grading time. A good filing system is required.

A final note about class scheduling is also in order. Semester 1 was taught twice a week (1:20
each time) while Semester 2 was taught once a week during the 6pm to 8:50pm time slot.
Speaking only in terms of the simulation, the three-hour slot seemed to make more sense as it
broke up the monotony of a long class and provided flexibility for extra caucus or committee
meetings. When the class is taught as a 1:20 class, students tend to feel as if they can’t get much
meaningful hands-on work done, and so they spend less time strategizing and more time rushing
to conclusions. Students at the end of Semester 2 suggested splitting the class in two parts: as a
four-unit, twice-a-week, 1:20 class devoted mostly to the readings and discussion of them -- as it
seemed that we rarely had time to discuss all of them in depth, and did not discuss some pieces at
all. This would be coupled with a 2-unit simulation exercise (also required, like a lab), which
would take place outside the regular class. The lab might meet every other week for a 2-hour
time period, for example. I intend to explore this option in Spring 2009.
THE ASSESSMENT: Students’ perspective
At least five kinds of assessments were performed at several different times to evaluate the
students’ overall experiences. I have amalgamated the responses from all sources and reported
on them below.
Types of Assessments.
(1) At the end of both semesters, Congress students wrote a retrospective paper
connecting their practical experience with theoretical understanding. The depth of insight
in those papers helped indicate the overall effectiveness of the simulation. My evaluation
of these papers infuses my overall judgment of the simulation’s value.
(2) Students completed U of R course evaluations and my own Congress course
evaluations
on the last day of class. I have reviewed and reported on these two sets of
evaluations from Fall 2005 and Spring 2007.
(3) Group discussions. I reviewed my notes from the last day of class, following the
concluding floor session in Spring 2007, where students made comments and suggestions
about what they learned and how the simulation might be changed or improved.
(5) I convened a focus group of “former (recovering?!) Congress members” in early
Spring 2008. Six students in a lunchtime gathering shared their thoughts about the
longer-term effects of the experience and their memories about the simulation, and two
more who couldn’t make it to lunch shared their recollections with me separately. These
post-hoc interviews revealed a few insights I hadn’t previously considered.
STUDENT RESPONSES: OVERALL VALUE OF THE SIMULATION
Congress students were generally enthusiastic about their experience. On a scale of one to four,
where 1 was “poor,” 2 was “adequate,” 3 was “good,” and 4 was “excellent,” the 13 student
evaluators from Spring 2005 gave their “overall evaluation of this course” a 3.75, compared to
3.67 in Spring 2007 (see Table 1). No one rated the course lower than “good.” Comments such


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