Friday, March 28, 2008

Striking A Bargain: Simulating And Teaching Diplomacy (Liveblogging ISA)

The panel on using simulations in the classroom was pretty interesting. A number of useful ideas and case studies out there to tap into (see the list and the links at the bottom of this post for the full names of presenters, titles of the presentations and a link to the paper archive).

I asked what critical thinking skills were the professors trying to impart to their students (beyond the basic course content on Kyoto or the EU or whatever). My own attitude is shaped by guys like Tetlock who claim that it is not what you know but how you think that matters. Even if you still believe that subject matter expertise is the most important element in forecasting, there does not seem to be the will, money or time to raise an army of experts in every potential crisis the world can throw at us. Until that changes, it seems to me that we are destined to be jumping from one hot spot or crisis (both tactical and strategic) to another and the ability to think with agility about each of them is going to be a requirement for intelligence analysts. In other words, facts change but how to think about facts is a teachable and, ultimately, more useful, skill.

Michael Baranowski and Kimberley Weir from Northern Kentucky University gave some particularly cogent answers to my question. They wanted their students to put themselves in the other person's/side's shoes, to force the students out of their comfort zone and they thought that simulations were a good way to encourage this "Red Team" thinking. I would agree. My own research with simulations back in the 90's suggests exactly that.

They also wanted their students to have the experience of having to take in vast quantities of data, sort through it and narrow it down to a policy paper that not only expressed the position of the side the students were espousing but also that countered the positions of the other sides in the simulation. As I know from our project-based classes at Mercyhurst, these "drinking from a fire-hose" exercises really sharpen student's skills in dealing with information overload.

Eleanor Zeff from Drake University riffed on the information overload theme by highlighting the lessons in critical reading that simulations provided. She said that simulations forced students to come to grips with questions like "Is this institution doing X because it is truly concerned with privacy or whatever or is it doing it simply to preserve its own power?" My paraphrase, obviously. Eleanor was much more eloquent...

Federiga Bindi, from the University Of Rome Tor Vergata, outlined some of the difficulties/differences with the way simulations are perceived/presented in Europe. Federiga, who was quite passionate about the value of simulations in learning and has run some huge simulations in Europe, indicated that she wanted her students to get out of their books and to get face to face with the complexity of the issues they are studying. As someone who is pretty familiar with the European tradition of higher education, I can certainly sympathize with her frustrations but have to applaud her drive.

Panel -- Striking a Bargain: Simulating and Teaching Diplomacy
(There are no permanent links for this panel. You will have to go here and search for the papers below if you are interested).

Manhattan College
Pamela S. Chasek

Brown University/American International College
Kimberly A. Hudson

Drake University
Eleanor E. Zeff
"European Union Institutions in Action: A Case Study of Negotiations Between the EU Institutions and the United States Regarding the Collection of Passenger Data for Persons Traveling by Air from Europe to the United States"

University of Rome Tor Vergata and Brookings Institution
Federiga Bindi
"Learning by Doing. The Joy and Anguish of Organizing Hands‐On Activities about EU Affairs"

Northern Kentucky University
Michael K. Baranowski
Kimberly A. Weir
"Simulating Global Energy Policy in Introductory International Relations and American Politics Classes"

Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC‐Rio)
Marcelo Mello Valença
Manoela A. Souza
"The Relevance of Model UN's on the Formation of a Critical Thinking in IR: The Case of MIRIN"

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