Director, Master of Arts in Intelligence and Security Studies, and Associate Professor of Political Science, Augusta University
Assistant Professor of History, University of Akron
Adjunct Lecturer, University of North Carolina at Greensboro; Adjunct Lecturer, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College
Executive Editor, Foreign Affairs
Vice President, National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations
As part of the 2018 College and University Educators Workshop, Toja Okoh, Craig Albert, and Karen Lynden join Daniel Kurtz-Phelan to discuss CFR and Foreign Affairs resources for the classroom, including the National Security Council simulation Model Diplomacy, World101, and the Academic Conference Call series.
FASKIANOS: We’re going to get started now, if I can have your attention. If everybody can get seated, we’re going to get started now. I am Irina Faskianos, the vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Thank you all for being with us today for our seventh annual College and University Educator’s Workshop.
So I just wanted to take a few minutes to tell you a little bit about mission and what we’re trying to do. The Council on Foreign Relations and our president, Richard Haass, is really committed as serving as a resource for educators of all disciplines to help their students become globally literate. And by this, what do we mean? We really hope that through our CFR Campus initiative that we are helping students develop the skills and knowledge that they better need to navigate this interconnected world. We have given you a lot of materials. You’ve talked to people at the resource tables. I just wanted to walk through some of the things that we sent out last week, some of the resources that we have.
CFR Campus is our gateway to these new learning products and resources. Vice President for Education, Caroline Netchvolodoff, and her team have developed the product, Model Diplomacy, which is a National Security Council simulation that engages students in the challenges of shaping and implementing foreign policy. It’s free and you can find more information on Model Diplomacy in your in the brochure in your packets. Cary’s there in the back of the room if you want to talk to her afterwards.
There are 14 cases online now that you have—you can do with your students. And it combines independent research, roleplaying, and critical thinking with you and your—and their peers. So I hope that you’ll do it. We are pleased and excited to announce that we’re going to have two historical cases that Cary and her team are going to release at the beginning of the—or, actually the school year—the new school year on the Korean War and NATO expansion. And then there will be another one on global health. So please, do take a look at it and bring it back. Any student can do this. So we encourage you to share it with colleagues across disciplines.
Coming soon is World101, which is a library of multimedia explainers designed to deepen students’ understanding of the world by focusing on the fundamental concepts of IR. This product is meant to be flexible. It can be used in and outside of a classroom. And it—again, we want it to be for students across all disciplines. So you don’t need to be an IR—you know, aspiring to be in IR to use it. It really is meant to be a premier on fundamental concepts of foreign policy.
We have teaching notes. In your packet we have teaching notes by Richard Haass, our president, on his book, A World in Disarray. We are a book-first culture, so we try to have our authors, our fellows, put together teaching notes on their books, as well as the info guides, which—three of which have won Emmys. So I hope that you will download those. These have discussion questions, activities, and bibliography. So they’re really rich in their offerings. From CFR.org, we have backgrounders, info guides as I mentioned before. These are Q&A format. You can filter by topic, region. They are really great primers as well. So you can send your students here.
The Global Governance Monitor that Stewart mentioned last night is right there. Again, covering different topics. And the Global Conflict Tracker—I heard some of you mention that you use this in your class. All of these are go-to resources to contextualize CFR global developments. We have an Academic Conference Call Series in the fall and in the spring for students. This is basically an opportunity for students to join in via telephone an interactive conversation with a CFR fellow, an FA author—sorry, Foreign Affairs author, no acronyms—or foreign policy expert. And it’s a great way—it convenes students from across the country and they can ask questions. We send out background materials in advance for—to prepare students. And then the audio is available online after the fact.
Tammi mentioned last night contextualizing your teaching with current events. We livestream a lot of our meetings here in New York and Washington. So during UNGA a lot of the leaders who are at the U.N. General Assembly come here to speak. And we livestream those meetings. The audio and transcripts can be found online. And you can watch it in real time or after the fact. So I hope that you’ll consider that. It’s CFR events. So you can see all that information. Jim Lindsay, who spoke last night, and Bob McMahon, who is the managing editor for CFR.org, host a weekly President’s Inbox podcast, where they talk to a guest about foreign policy. The postcard is in your packet. It’s really great. You can subscribe on iTunes for that.
And finally, I’d like to highlight Foreign Affairs, which is a staple in any classroom. So—and you should definitely subscribe. Go back to your librarians on your college campus. We offer a site license agreement, so you can make it available to all—your entire campus. So we hope that you’ll do that. It gives you access to articles going back to when we founded Foreign Affairs in 1922. So I hope that you will take advantage of that. We are looking for suggestions, comments, things that you want that we don’t have, or what you like, what you don’t like. So please send your feedback to CFRCampus@cfr.org. We welcome all suggestions.
So, with that, I am going to stop talking and turn it over to three professors who’ve actually used CFR and Foreign Affairs in their classroom. So we can pull up the screen. And I’d like to invite my colleagues to come on stage, as well as Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, who is the executive editor of Foreign Affairs. And he will be moderating the conversation. And just to say that Dan, in addition to his day job, has authored a book entitled The China Mission, which just came out two weeks ago. And Toja talked about the importance of history. This is a narrative history of George Marshall. And it really is a wonderful read. I commend it to you all. So with that, I will turn it over to Dan to introduce the panel and marshal the conversation—no pun intended.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here. Thank you so much, Irina, and all of you. The title of this late morning session is Teaching with CFR and Foreign Affairs Resources. But I actually want to take the opportunity to talk a bit about Foreign Affairs to start, before we jump into the conversation, because this topic and the discussions all of you are having over the next couple of days really relate to our core editorial mission, which I want to talk about for a second. As we select pieces, as we talk to authors and potential authors, as we work with authors to shape ideas into Foreign Affairs pieces, and as we go through our fairly exhaustive and probably exhausting, from the author’s perspective, editing process, we seek to maintain two basic principles, or we focus on two basic objectives. One is authority and the other is accessibility.
So we hope with every piece that if any of you in this room who are experts in a subject read a piece on your area of expertise you find it credible, you find it interesting, you find it—that it advances the argument or understanding of the subject of some way, or at least is a provocative take from someone with real authority. But that any one of your students could also read it and understand the argument, could kind of understand the language, there’s not unnecessary jargon, there’s nothing unnecessarily complex or convoluted about how it’s presented. And we think that there does not have to be a tradeoff between those two—those two principles of authority and accessibility. And we at least strive with everything we do to meet both of those. And what it means, we think, is that there should be a common conversation among experts and professionals, and also a much broader public.
So I hope we are doing that. I hope that strikes all of you as—(laughs)—something that we at least most of the time meet. But I will kind of treat this as market research as well. So very much looking forward to the conversation. I’m going to quickly introduce the three speakers today. They’ve all won a ton of teaching awards. So I’m not going to list all of those, because it would take me about 10 minutes. But I think you have it in your packets if you want the full list.
Starting immediately to my left is Toja Okoh, who is currently assistant professor of history at the University of Akron but will soon be started as assistant professor of African history at Loyola University Maryland in the fall. Is that right?
KURTZ-PHELAN: Her research focuses on the development of minority identities in the Oyo regions of the Niger Delta. And her upcoming book on that subject is Contesting From the Margins: Minority Identity and Citizenship in Nigeria, 1927-1960.
To her left is Craig Albert, who is an associate professor of political science at Augusta University. He is also director of the model United Nations program and of the Master of Arts in intelligence and security studies program there. His own research is focused on ethnic conflict, cyber conflict, and then, somewhat incongruously, the scholarship of teaching and learning, which I guess we would call it classroom conflict if you wanted to maintain the list. (Laughter.)
And then on his left is Karen Lynden, who is a lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Bryan School of Business and Economics and at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. She has 15 years of undergraduate teaching experience with an approach and philosophy centered on experiential and project-based learning. So great slate of speakers.
Before we get into some of the more CFR- and FA-specific parts of the conversation, I actually wanted to start a little bit broader, and was hoping to get each of you, starting with Toja, to talk about what the key challenge is of teaching international affairs generally, but also in this particular moment, all right? I imagine it’s become a little bit harder in the last couple of years.
OKOH: Yeah. The terrain moves as we sort of—our semesters get going. (Laughs.) And what we think we’re going to be talking about sometimes has to shift. And so I found over the last maybe two or three years building in some level of resilience in my syllabus and creating spaces with which or through which we can grapple with applying some of the themes and ideas that we’re talking about in the class to—and, you know, really thinking through current events.
I teach what’s becoming a popular class, History of Modern Africa, and it’s very relevant. I really try to connect students’ interests—they’re often not African majors or African history majors; they’re often looking at—they’re usually U.S. history majors—really kind of making connections as to why they need to care about Africa and why they need to understand the dynamics in Africa as a part of the global sort of unfolding dynamic. Why the Congo matters, for example, and why Boko Haram should be thought about in terms of global terrorism, and why we need to understand the history sort of undergirding a lot of these processes.
And so I have found that one of the challenges is the sort of fast-moving terrain on which we can sort of make applications for the ideas in my classroom. But I’ve also found it very satisfying to be able to make those connections for students and have them really sort of—I can see the lightbulbs sort of going on/off on their—in their heads to sort of say, well, this actually does make a difference, and I am actually having—in this class for a reason, and I’m actually going to be using this. And I’ve had a number of students be inspired to get a Master’s in international relations, for example, and really think more about this, given the kind of ways in which we make connections in the history classroom.
ALBERT: The key challenges right now for me are twofold. One is just getting the students to care. I think some of us always have that kind of problem. And really, like, tricking them into learning is kind of the approach I take, so. (Laughter.) I do that partly through simulations. I know we’re not there yet. But, you know, a lot of times students don’t think politics matter to them, especially international relations. So, you know, I try to trick them into it by teaching special-topic courses relating to them on their terms, particularly. So I teach, you know, a lot of zombie and international relations politics, you know, using Drezner’s book. I’m sure most of you in here know that book. And hip-hop in politics I teach a lot, a great book out there called Organic Globalizer that talks about hip-hop and politics in an international perspective.
And I also like to really focus on trying not to be America-centric in the classroom. My university, Augusta University, has a big memorandum of understanding with Fort Gordon, which is, you know, Army Cyber Command and associated with NSA in a big way. So we have a lot of military students. So it’s particularly challenging to get discourse from an international perspective to be important to these types of students. So I’m not criticizing their approach, but it’s also hard for me particularly to give critical discourse theory and constructivist-type theories of international relations to my students, especially my military students. In a security studies program, it’s quite difficult.
So I would say the challenges for me are getting them to care and to really just show them that you’re interested in politics whether you know it or not, especially international politics. And, you know, you might not think it affects you, but it certainly affects you. And things you do in your life every day, you know, are influenced by international politics.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Have you seen that change at all in the last couple of years, or is this kind of a constant problem?
ALBERT: It’s been constant since, I think, for me in grad school. It was a little bit different where I received my graduate degree from where I am now, but no, it’s—I think more students are entertained now with international relations and American politics, obviously. So they pay attention to it a little bit more just because it’s, you know, the fake news syndrome and everything involved with our elections and the rise of populism seems intriguing to a lot of students. But they still don’t tend to, in my experience, you know, look at it from the—from the outside in. It’s still American-centric.
LYNDEN: I would echo those comments.
And in regard to international business, which is my discipline, we can look for resources that are not American-centric, but also looking for credible resources that our students can go out and receive that information, get that primary information is really important. Those are our challenges right now.
I think the news pace, as you first mentioned, is so quick, and it’s so hard from my perspective to adapt my lesson plans consistently and keep control of what my learning objectives are for this week as opposed to what news feeds and twitters we’re receiving earlier in the week. And so that fine balance is really my challenge right now.
KURTZ-PHELAN: How responsive are you to what students are reading about in their Twitter feeds and what is kind of consuming at least political conversation or international affairs conversation that week?
LYNDEN: I think that’s something that—since the last election cycle, what I’ve tried to do is build into a Monday—let’s say it’s the first section of the week—but just to give a little bit of time, 15 minutes, and then have some real hard boundaries on when we stop that conversation and when we roll into, you know, the business of the day. But allowing some space for that conversation.
And some of the things that we’ve all talked about just in conversation here today has been about civil discourse and cultivating that within our classroom. So those are some things that are a constant challenge for me.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Toja, I actually wanted to focus on one particular thing you mentioned. You talked about the DRC, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and trying to make students care, to put it bluntly. You know, we think about this editorially quite a bit. We had a long piece about the current political crisis there a couple issues ago, kind of a—a very, very good 6,000-word piece by Stuart Reid. But it’s, you know, something we think about editorially. There are certain topics where you know a ton of people are going to read it and there are kind of headline crises that are always going to attract readers, but taking something like the political crisis in the DRC that has—is incredibly complex, most of our readers don’t know that background and I’m sure most of your students don’t either, but it has incredible implications both kind of regionally and in humanitarian terms. So I’m curious how you—you know, just taking that as a case, how you really make people care.
OKOH: I use sort of a blunt object. (Laughs.) I have this really heavy documentary that I use, both in my modern Africa class but also I teach a global history class, which—it’s like a 200-student lecture, but I still make them watch this documentary in their discussion sections. And it is a very good comprehensive history of the Congo from the days of slavery and then rubber to the present, and really sort of stopping with the sort of looking at how the original sort of grassroots democratic process got halted by the Cold War and the CIA. And I actually provide them with primary sources from the CIA, sort of a lot of it redacted, but that they can get a sense that these things are real, that they’re not just—this is not conspiracy. And then also make broader connections to their interest by pointing to the resources that have come out of the Congo and continue to come out of the Congo that impact their everyday lives, right?
For instance, how can we rethink or think about our current conversation around nuclear armament without considering that a lot of the uranium that sort of fuels the nuclear economy comes from the Congo and has always? You know, sort of this is one of the largest repositories of this. How can we consider the conditions under which our cellphones and smartphones and tablets and computers are being made and that we consume on a daily basis? How do your consumer patterns influence your voting patterns and the policies with which people make decisions on your behalf?
What’s fascinating to me about a lot of what I’m seeing in my classroom lately is that I’m finding that students don’t have the vocabulary. And it’s not because they don’t want it; they don’t have a political vocabulary. They have no way of making sense of the world now that they’re experiencing because we’ve had a—we’ve done a very good job in our popular culture to avoid politics, and that in their homes they’re avoiding politics. And so they’re really hungry for an apparatus by which to understand and talk about the world, and I’m finding that I need to—I’m becoming more courageous in providing that for them and creating a space. And I’m actually teaching an experimental class, not even as an Africanist, to provide more space for civil dialogue and practicing civil discourse, right? Yeah.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Craig and Karen, I’d be curious if there are kind of specific examples from the past year or two of your teaching where you have struggled to make students care about a specific issue and how you’ve tricked them into that, to use—to use Craig’s term.
ALBERT: (Laughs.) I mean, I can’t think of any controversies going on right now in politics. (Laughter.)
I mean, I just—it depends on what the issue is. I mean, from human rights and the Rohingya, you know, situation, and just to teach them what this means. And I kind of have a big issue with political science in that we tend to be, you know, too academic and focus, in my humble opinion, too much on social methods and social processes. You know, so at the end of every class when I teach my ethnic conflict classes, you know, I try to, you know, kind of darkly remind my students that, you know, during this time when we’ve been talking about these different theories of ethnic conflict, you know, kids have died, you know, as a result of this. And what happens anywhere in the world affects the international system. So, you know, like, I try to tell them, you know, in non-scientific terms, you know, this is the butterfly effect, you know? What happens somewhere affects all of us somehow; especially the way humanitarian intervention can work in these instances and with the unpredictability of the administration, we could go to war in any of these regions, and that they could be affected by that. So it’s a tough balance to tell them how it affects them. But I try to darkly remind them.
And at the end of a class, you know, you always want to be inspired and leave on a good note. And you just—(laughter)—I try not to do that. I’m like just—(laughter)—you know, just remember what we’re reading about happens now. And it’s not just theories that we need to talk about, it’s the consequences and how this affects people’s lives in a very real way. So, you know, sometimes showing dark documentaries or short clips that really just shows the pain and the torture, I mean, we live such privileged lives here, especially university students, you know, that they kind of get a—get to check out of real life for a little while. Not to take away from the hard experiences of college, but it’s different than, you know, growing up in Syria right now or, you know, growing up in Chechnya right now, where you’ve known nothing but, you know, war and authoritarianism if you’ve been, you know, born past 1991, so.
KURTZ-PHELAN: How is the dynamic between the general population of students and those who are serving in the military, for whom a discussion about North Korea, say, has a very different potential significance?
ALBERT: It’s really fun, but hard. I mean, especially when I—you know, I teach security studies from a very theoretical perspective, and then I have, you know—(laughs)—people that do it on the ground. And it depends on who they are, but they chime in and say no, that’s not how it works. (Laughter.) And I go, but I mean theoretically. And they’re like, yeah, that’s why it doesn’t work. (Laughter.) So—and so part of the way I tackle—and that’s a big problem in our university, and I like that because, you know, our students—you know, we have such a large military population with traditional students as well.
So I like to integrate the conversation and hear from the experience of the veterans in the classroom, active duty, plus the brand new 18-year-old, you know, that has, you know, just—the only military understanding they have is from Call of Duty and, you know, their Xbox games. So, again, I try to trick them into really liking these things by teaching thematic classes. So last semester I had—I taught foreign policy, but I taught it through the lens of Special Operations forces. And so most of the students weren’t military actually that took it, but they wanted to sign up for it because, you know, I was using Rob O’Neill’s book, the famous SEAL Team Six. I had some guest people come in and Skype. And I actually got on Marcus Luttrell’s podcast for teaching in the classroom Lone Survivor, so that was pretty cool. And that got my students really involved. They’re like, oh, you get to talk to Marcus Luttrell? And I was like, yes, and so can you if you care about international politics. (Laughter.)
And so it’s just about showing them, you know, this stuff matters, and creating that dialogue in a—in a safe space so it’s safe for you, veteran of Iraq, veteran of Afghanistan, you know, to talk about your experiences and how you view the disconnect—view the disconnect between, you know, my academic theoretical approach and what you experienced, you know, in Afghanistan, especially in an ethnic conflict course. You know, we teach culture and, you know, what’s the affect of the military being in Afghanistan and that aspect, and they view it in one way and I view it in another way. And some of the students are just soaking it all in, which I think is great. It’s great Socratic discourse and integrating all views. And, you know, I try to create an environment where it feels safe for everybody in the classroom, including myself.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Karen, specific examples?
LYNDEN: Just going along the lines of it’s very interesting to talk about unintended consequences, and in the populations which I teach also globalization. I can talk about the positives, but we’ve got households that are directly negatively affected by globalization and, you know, automation. And so these are some real topics that we could talk about, but they’re very personal topics to the students. So to help them broaden their perspectives on that.
And then also know that even if you never want to leave your county because you love your family and you love this area—and that is a good thing—but it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to work with vendors and suppliers and clients where, you know, your products and your services can outreach and make a difference in the world. So trying to open that up is something very interesting for us to address.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Yeah. I’ve been peddling a book about George Marshall for the last two weeks, so I can’t resist just referring back to one Marshall experience. When the Marshall Plan was first proposed, its prospects looked very bad in Congress. And so Marshall spent months and months and months flying around America, speaking to groups of cotton growers or small-business people, trying to make exactly that case and kind of working it out over the months why it mattered that there was an economic recovery in Western Europe. And it was the same exact challenge that you just described, actually.
LYNDEN: And my students might not even connect to that idea. But the great thing about these conversations that we have is that we can go back into the history and maybe make that come alive, or so what?
KURTZ-PHELAN: Right, right.
LYNDEN: You know, what’s the “so what” behind it? And so we do need to learn from our past and keep that connected.
Sometimes we’re living in our own media bubbles. I mean, I can do it myself. I get my news feeds. There are only so many things that I know that I can ingest a day with content and information. Our students are doing the same thing. And so we have to be really, I think, careful in helping students broaden their perspectives on the types of materials that they’re bringing into their own lens. And so I think that with materials particularly like the modules that we were looking at, it’s very helpful in giving them a nonpartisan piece to reflect on.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Yeah. That’s a—that’s a really good segue because I want to get to some of the specific offerings that Irina just talked about.
So it would be good to hear from each of you the specific ways you’ve managed to use some of the CFR-Foreign Affairs resources in addressing these challenges over the last year or two. Toja, you want to start? Yeah.
OKOH: So I’ve used CFR mostly in my—in my modern Africa class, and I’ve used it over the last couple of years and—because I’ve taught it one time each year. And I used the Model Diplomacy simulation primarily, but I also supplemented it with Foreign Affairs articles and things like that where relevant.
What I—how I position it in the context of my course is I provide—it comes at the last third of the course, and we spend roughly two to three weeks on it. It kind of also coincides with spring break. So they do a lot of the sort of background work all the way up through spring break, and then when they come back fresh—(snaps fingers)—we do the simulation. And it actually works really well in that way.
And we’ve done specifically South Sudan and Boko Haram. Boko Haram for me was like, yay—(laughs)—a Nigeria-specific one that I can really, like, have a lot of—you know, I can give a lot of extra to.
So we were—we were able to use the simulations. Students really come out through the simulations. They really blossom through that exercise.
And again, because most of my students take the class not necessarily because they’re interested in Africa but that they need to fulfill their sort of third field requirement or whatever, they come in not really understanding why they should care about Africa, why African history is so important. The simulation, ironically, even though it’s sort of based as sort of a simulation of U.S. policy, really gives them an opportunity to flip from their sort of deep dive into African history and become—you know, go back to being Americans in some ways and looking at Africa from an American standpoint. To what extent are the events unfolding in South Sudan or with Boko Haram important and impactful on American interests, for example, or global interests? And sort of playing that—you know, thinking about it in these—in these broader ways really enhances their understanding of why this matters. And so I found the simulations to be really, really helpful.
I’ve had to supplement the simulations with historical context. So, for South Sudan, I actually made them read excerpts from a fairly new history on South Sudan. There isn’t a lot of literature—historical literature on South Sudan, actually, because it’s a fairly new country. And for Boko Haram, again, I’ve had to kind of do a little bit more work providing historical context in order for them to really look at it in a—in a rich way as opposed to just the sort of, you know, this is a part of terrorism. Actually, this is linked to what—you know, the dynamics in Nigeria very, very—as much as it is about being part of global terrorism, a network.
So I’m—they walk away with a really very sort of deep dive into a scenario or a set of scenarios that I think becomes very enriching for them and have inspired a few of them to really consider as their second step after their history major to go into international relations or policymaking. So I’ve been really satisfied with that.
ALBERT: I kind of have a mixed, you know, learning outcome system for my students. I think we all deal with this. How much content do we want them to understand in a course versus how many skills do we want to teach them and higher-order thinking capabilities? Which, for me, I think, frankly, from my pedagogical preference, I care much more about the higher-order learning than I do about content because they can Google anything right then in the classroom if they need to know something specifically. So, for me, CFR resources, especially Model Diplomacy—which I am not getting paid, but is absolutely the greatest thing in the history of the world. (Laughter.) If you would like me to pay—pay me for saying that, that would be fine as well, but. (Laughter.)
KURTZ-PHELAN: We can talk afterward.
ALBERT: (Laughs.) I’m teasing, but it has so many cases and resources—free resources, which for my institution and the state of Georgia generally is trying to give incentives for low-cost classes and low class textbook requirements. So, with this portion of the class, which runs about the last third of our semester—so I teach all the theoretical concepts the first third. The second third I teach much more of the concepts, so concepts of deterrence, what that means, versus the theories of security studies in the first section. And then do some cases and Foreign Affairs articles—love the Foreign Affair(s) articles. The students relate very well to those articles. But then in the simulation they get to combine everything they’ve learned, like the theoretical perspective with policy understanding and how to write a policy memo.
Which to me is the greatest attribute of Model Diplomacy is that they have to learn technical writing skills. And in my mind, technical writing skills is just such a precise art and science, and can help you in so many disciplines. Whether it’s business, you know, marketing economics, political science, this is a perfect way of helping students have a learning of how the international system works, but also a skill that they can take to an employer and say I know how to write technically perfect. And so that’s an amazing opportunity that they get from it.
And so the simulations are awesome. So far I’ve done two. I piloted one last semester to see how it was because I’m the director of our Model U.N. program, too, so I’m familiar with using simulations. So I wanted to see how this would relate to Model U.N., and they do relate a lot. But I like the Model Diplomacy more because everything you need is right there. It’s all built together. It’s easy to access, tons of different resources you can use. And the students really—this is what’s interesting about these types of simulations. And it’s in the literature. If you look in the, you know, gaming and simulation literature, students who would not take on the personas that they take on in the classroom under these situations are absolutely amazing. And you can see the bureaucratic politics play out in your classroom because SecDef will go against SecState in a battle in the class, and it’s just amazing.
And so the way I use it, I don’t play a role in the simulation. Some choose to be the president if they’re the faculty or not, but I just, you know, hands-off and just let them go at it. And they’re like, is this how it works on the NSC? And I’m like, depends on who the president is. (Laughter.) But you can imagine today that, you know, it’s probably some fun times in there. (Laughter.) And they just—they just go at it, and they really—you know, students have come to me afterwards and said it really just changed my perspective. And then they said something that was really phenomenal for me. They said now I understand why theory is so important, because it really gives us an orientation of what this policy means or what are the possible consequences of this policy.
And for me to get somebody to understand abstract theory—and this semester, it’s amazing, we just started our simulation of—the crisis on the Korean Peninsula this semester is what we’re doing. Last semester we did drones in Pakistan. But because of the theory that we’ve learned, the president issued a memorandum to our NSC saying if you have any military options for this, you need to relay it to me through critical discourse theory. (Laughter.) So, to me, it’s like the whole class is handling military, you know, situations and scenarios through critical discourse and constructivism, which is just messy but awesome. (Laughter.) I mean, like, that’s the way class should be, in my opinion. And they just—I mean, they come out understanding what it might be like on the policy end of something, but with such rich theoretical analysis.
And you can see the bulbs clicking and the critical analysis and the analytical thinking just happening right there in front of you. It’s like, that’s why I went into the classroom is to see that occur, and it’s just beautiful.
LYNDEN: That was exciting.
For us, we’ve used the conference call series. And with business courses, we can’t connect our learning objectives with every single one of those topics, but we usually can find two every semester. And so we’ll open this up. We can incorporate it in different ways. For our department we even had it as a—more of a discipline event. And so, you know, pizza event and getting people in. And it’s really interesting when students can read the articles beforehand and then participate on the call. I’ve had a few brave students that will actually ask their questions. It’s so empowering for them and engaging, and it’s a really unique part to be a part of.
This semester, I tried the globalization module for World101. And what I did with that one is I’m in the unique position where I’m 100 percent online this semester. And so, with the community college and with UNCG, I offered this as an introductory module, so kind of the flip of how you’re using. This is a great primer for our topic. So, in our first module, just getting familiar with globalization topics, getting them interested in current events or, you know, so-what type of thoughts.
So what we did was create the module, insert it into the learning management system. I have Blackboard and Canvas, and it worked great with both.
The teaching materials were so helpful in developing a quiz. I developed a discussion board—an online discussion board, which was asynchronous, and then we had a conference call for all students that would like to participate. And just looking through the discussion board comments, seeing what the students really did want to talk about, because I proposed seven different prompts—and we were talking the other day; it was food, pharmaceuticals, and technology. Those were the things that they really pulled from the globalization module. But it was great to see those discussions starting to happen through the online format and then through the conversation.
And it let me know, too, what are the engaging points that I can continue to draw from and pull to pull them through the rest of the course and get a little bit more detailed through theory, through how does this really impact current issues in business. So it was a really good experience.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Craig and Toja, I’d love to hear a bit more from you on how you make the simulations work. And I should say I have won no awards for my teaching, unlike all of you on this stage, and I have found simulations very, very hard when I’ve tried them, and I’ve had a real challenge getting students to kind of inhabit those roles the way that they seem to in your—in your classroom, Craig. So I’m just very curious: What makes it work? And when does it fail?
ALBERT: Well, it hasn’t failed yet, at least from my perspective. (Laughter.)
KURTZ-PHELAN: Guess I’m just really bad at it. (Laughter.)
ALBERT: I’m one for one on that. (Laughter.)
So I think a lot of people are—a lot of faculty in my department are afraid of using simulations because they’re afraid of—
OKOH: Yeah. Mine are, too.
ALBERT: —kind of like doing harm to the students, you know, like not teaching the students something. And I’m—I don’t know, I’m kind of just like a radicalist or something where I’m just like, I want to try this and see if it works.
And so I went in there, and this might sound poor from a pedagogical standpoint, but I didn’t do a lot of prep work on the cases because, you know, I’m on a 4-4 load, I’m a director of a master’s program on top of that. We still have high publication. I mean, we all have, you know—you know, we all have 200-hour workweeks it seems. So I was like, I’m going to try this out and I’m just going to be honest with the students and say we’re all going to have kind of the same level of introduction to this. So we’ll take a day, go over what the expectations are. This is my first time doing it, so I told them. I was very transparent. I said I promise you if I suck and it doesn’t work at all, your grade is not going to be a reflection of me not understanding it. So I kind of was very transparent and open and honest about the process, and they were very relaxed that it wasn’t going to negatively impact their grade—which, unfortunately, students care about rather than just getting something out of it. But I empathize with that, and so I just tell them, look, we’re all learning at the same time.
And then at the end of it—so Model Diplomacy has a—kind of a built-in reflective assessment on it, and so after the process, the last day of the simulation, I just let everybody give me their open and honest feedback in a safe space, you know—I want you to criticize me, and I want you to criticize the simulation, so you’re not going to get negatively hurt by telling me that you didn’t like certain aspects. And so they gave me suggestions of what to do for the next semester—for this semester—and how to incorporate materials more methodically to prepare them better. And they wanted an example day because they didn’t know what the simulations were going to look like.
That’s the same thing you experience with Model U.N. If you’re, you know, preparing students for like national Model U.N. here in New York, you know, you can prepare them as much as you can, but nothing is going to really, you know, simulate 5,000 college students in a, you know, hotel in Times Square simulating, you know, multiple committees. And it’s the same way for the—for Model Diplomacy, but—so now they told me that we would like some prep days, more like what roles should we—can we get some resources on what the institutional roles really are—you know, what does the secretary of Defense really do versus, you know, the secretary of State. And that’s something—I was like, OK, so this is something I can work with.
So this semester I built it in to where we had like three practice days and independent writing sessions, so for their policy briefs, which are due before the simulation from their institutional perspective, I just sat there, they brought their laptops, their tablets, or just pen and pad, and they could come to me and say, is this something that, you know, the secretary of Defense would argue or, you know, how can I word this better. And so it’s really individualized learning. They each would come up to me when they needed something, and it’s one-on-one instruction at the same time where I can do group discussion and, you know, kind of taking techniques from K through 12 education, but—and just to get them to care and to get into their roles, it’s natural. They spend a few days researching and building something, and if you frame it as a game, they want to win it. I mean, they’re competitive and they just get into the roles.
Astonishingly, where people that I know have different partisan beliefs or different theoretical orientations argue and really convincingly get into the roles that they are representing, and that’s just fascinating. It’s fascinating.
OKOH: Yeah, can you remind me what the question was again? (Laughter.) Just to—
KURTZ-PHELAN: How do you—how do you make a simulation work?
OKOH: Oh, OK, so the—I actually did a lot prep for the first time because I am in a department that is sort of averse to online anything, much less experimentation, and I’ve—I guess I have now the reputation of experimentation because now I’m doing it university-wide.
But what was interesting—why I wanted to do model—use the simulation was because I was so tired of the sort of formulaic research paper that ultimately students hate, I hate reading, and it’s just this horrible way of ending the semester. And there was no incentive or inspiration for students to really kind of get into any of it or really make the connections that I really wanted them to make. So that’s what drew me to the model—the simulation piece and why I wanted to bring it in.
The first time I taught it, I left two weeks at the end of the semester to do more of the class, and students were—adamantly were like, no, this is how we need to finish because now we’re super excited and like the thought of having to kind of go back and sort of read and discuss is just boring at this point. And like—so the second time I taught it was very much at the end, and that is literally how we landed, and we had a final discussion, and they really brought it into the discussion at the very end, sort of tying everything up, and I was very satisfied with that.
The other piece was—in terms of incorporating it into the classroom, the other thing that I understood going in was that students—and I don’t—I’m sure a lot of you can related to this—they don’t want to read any more. This was a strategy for me to trick them into reading, and also to get them to start talking to each other and relying on each other for learning as opposed to relying on me, and me as sort of the filler of their sort of, you know, vessel, which is something I’ve always been uncomfortable with anyway, and so I found that the simulation, in preparing them and asking them to practice their roles—I built in a week the first time, and I did it the second because I think it worked well. They, literally, out of class as part of their homework was to connect with each other, and so the group work was happening outside of the classroom. They would spend late nights in coffee shops, and they would—you know, they got into their roles. They really—I mean, wallflower students took on their role with gusto and really came out through the simulation, and it was just really fascinating to just kind of sit back. Once I got everything in place, I literally stepped back.
I also don’t take a formal role in the simulation. I kind of let the students—I provide guidance, I throw curveballs at them, which is always fun to see how they sort of react on their feet. They don’t know what’s coming, and modeling is good for that. They give you ways to throw sort of, you know—you know, yank—you know, yank them one way or the other off their path, if you will. So they spent like two or three weeks preparing, and there’s a way that the simulation—in the middle of the simulation you can pull them off and they have to really think fast. And because they’ve been working on thinking about consequences and thinking in broad ways, it’s really fun to see that their brains are able to sort of really be resilient, and that’s a learning outcome that I like. That’s better—that’s better than reading a boring research paper that they, you know, barely worked on.
And so, for me it was very satisfying, as a teacher, but also I think students are also very responsive when you indicate to them that you trust them, that you are willing to—that you are willing to allow them to take risks, and provide a space for them to practice and figure it out as opposed to setting everything up in place, and providing formulas, and telling them how to think. It’s just really a wonderful—for me, I learned a lot about pedagogy from the simulation exercise, precisely in how to let go and how to create the conditions by which students can really, you know, learn.
ALBERT: If I can add one more point—
ALBERT: —is, you know, besides the academic skill sets they get from it, they really learn, you know, social interaction skills—
OKOH: Yes, yes.
ALBERT: —and some of my more—or shyer students just took on, you know, very aggressive, prominent roles through the simulation, and their personalities almost changed as a result of the simulation. So these very shy, humble students, you know, that just wanted to be left alone were all of a sudden, you know, arguing for massive invasion—
OKOH: Yeah, they’re like hawks. (Laughs.)
ALBERT: They’re hawks! I’m like where did this come from? And then that’s it, and they said that that was—it gave them the, you know, social confidence they needed to express their already inherent intelligence.
KURTZ-PHELAN: And inner hawkishness, as well. (Laughter.)
OKOH: Apparently, yeah.
ALBERT: Inner hawkishness. (Laughs.)
OKOH: Yeah, there was one—they named their operation—I mean, this one student who says barely anything, he’s like Operation Kill Something, and I’m just like, oh, my—they went with it, though. I mean, they had to. I mean, this was sort of secretary of Defense, so here we go, you know.
KURTZ-PHELAN: I’m going to go to the audience in just a second, but because I’ve talked about my failures, I’m going to use the moderator’s power to make each one of you talk about something that has failed in your own experimentation in trying to get students to relate to international affairs and foreign policy, so we’ll do it—just a quick round of this starting with Karen.
LYNDEN: I think any time that I’ve relied only on a textbook is boring, and so I know I need to use media, interactives—it’s such an important part. Finding the right ones is always the challenge, so trying to keep it current, interesting, engaging when sometimes you don’t have those resources—it could really fail.
ALBERT: My biggest failure is this earpiece—that’s the hardest thing. (Laughs.)
I mean, I try to experiment a lot in my classes, and I think it’s hard. I use the Socratic discourse mostly. I hate the sage on the stage model; I don’t think it really works well for learning, especially not at the higher orders of Bloom’s taxonomy of what—really what you want students to get out of there. And sometimes I fail miserably by just crafting discussions that, you know, are beneficial to the students for both content and those higher-order capabilities. And, you know, it’s very awkward if you have a Socratic-based class on the readings, and you know, the students will come in not doing the readings—
ALBERT: —so I implement, you know, the awkward pause. I will sit there for ten minutes if I ask a question and they can’t answer it, and pretty soon they’re like, wait, we have the book. And so they can sort of—(laughter)—like, yeah, the answers are there!
I mean, I think it’s harder for me than it is for them just to sit there, and I’ll start sweating, and I’m like, I’m going to get fired. (Laughter.) What did you do in Dr. Albert’s class? Sat there—I mean, like—but I think that’s the challenge—is, you know, really engaging them is what it—you know, trying to teach them the importance of reading the literature, reading the classics, and I think it’s—I try not to use textbooks. I don’t use textbooks. If I use, you know, regular readings, I use political philosophy and relate it back to the field somehow.
OKOH: Yeah, I think my biggest challenge and sometimes failure is letting go, trying to go with the experiment that I’ve set up—(laughs)—and trusting that it will work. I always create backups, and I find that that’s so much time that I put in that ends up not being necessary, interestingly enough. I no longer expect my students to read any more, which I find disheartening and heartbreaking, but I do—I still—I still try—(laughs)—to bring the textbook back or at least indicate that it’s there and it’s useful.
I think the—my biggest challenge and continued challenge is, yeah, letting go of some of that, and finding ways to reach students and get them to walk away with a broad understanding and the skills that they need from the course. A lot of our history courses are very much focused on good writing, good reading, good understanding of readings from critical thinking and writing, and the writing piece—I still feel like I’m not—I’m not passing that; I’m failing, but part of it is not my fault. I think it’s a—it’s a systemic problem.
KURTZ-PHELAN: And if you think it’s disheartening for you to find them not reading, think about someone like me who produces a magazine for a living.
OKOH: Right, right. (Laughter.) Well, I think for me what’s even more is the writing. The writing is just—oh, yeah.
KURTZ-PHELAN: So we’ll now go to participants’ questions. Please wait for the microphone, stand, and state your name and affiliation. We will implement the awkward pause if there are no questions, so—we’ll sit up here.
Yes, we’ll start there.
Q: Hi, I’m Nienke Grossman. I’m a professor at the University of Baltimore Law School.
And I use simulations in my classes on international human rights, and international law, and other topics as well. And I think one of the challenges with simulations is how you grade them, and how you grade them in a way that’s fair, and objective, and unbiased, and all of those things. So I was wondering how you grade them, or if you grade them at all. Thank you.
ALBERT: So I’ll take the first stab at it, if you don’t mind.
So CFR provides some rubrics in Model Diplomacy for you, and then it—and then I just play with them a little bit to match my own taxonomy of grading. And what I try to do is I give a participation grade, which is a big chunk of their grade overall because it’s such a heavily discoursed class. So like 20 percent of the grade is staying in role or staying in your proper character during the simulation, which is hard to grade objectively, but if you have a secretary of State arguing, you know, for war, I mean, that’s kind of obvious that they’re not staying in character. And so I use a couple of apps where I can text them without them having my private number—(laughter)—and I’ll say, hey, just a reminder of something. You’re kind of going out of character, and part of your grade is on character, so roll that back in, and you know, they appreciate that, and I appreciate that.
And then part of it is just, you know, did you follow the parameters of a policy memo, and did you write in technical language, or did you use, you know, the “since the beginning of time”—you know, that type of language which, you know, is, you know, filler rather than precise writing, so I grade—you know, did they follow the proper writing protocol.
And then did they create practical policy solutions—even if they’re really, you know, non-probable or, you know, not likely to happen, are they practical? Can I envision this being a practical policy solution versus, you know, let’s just nuke ‘em, you know? That’s not—that doesn’t match the theory. It might match some rhetoric, but it doesn’t match the theory or the spirit of what we try to do in education and in international relations specifically.
So I grade them a little bit towards the easier end. So the policy memo, which is pre-simulation, is 10 percent of their grade, and that takes the place of a fourth paper. So I don’t do research papers; I do three application papers—they’re like four or five pages—throughout the semester, then the policy memo, and then their reflection memo, which is post-simulation, counts as another 10 percent.
So writing—just like you focusing on that—is about 60 percent of their grade, you know, pretty much 10 percent, each of these small papers, split up every few weeks of the class, two focused on the simulation. And so—you know, the typical grading paper scale comes in with proper language, and spellcheck—which I just don’t understand why they don’t know that that’s a(n) option—(laughter)—and you can just click a button and it shows up, so that’s—that’s how I grade it.
And with the character—that’s the hardest part, you know, as a—to be objective as a professor—you know, is that what a character would—you know, and somebody this week was like, well, you don’t know. We might be in, you know, Trump’s cabinet’s role of—this is how they act. So it was like, well, fair, fair, I guess.
OKOH: But not. (Laughs.) Not the way we’re training you, yeah.
ALBERT: Yeah, so—
KURTZ-PHELAN: Karen or Toja?
OKOH: Yeah, I—I don’t—I didn’t find it that difficult, actually, to evaluate the simulation or incorporate it into my larger scheme. I typically—so most of our sort of writing—our exams are writing intensive anyway, and so I have like a mid-term sort of paper—short paper based on the content up until that point, and then I have a final exam that sort of does an overall view of the course. And then the simulation is really sort of focused on that second half of the course and, really, the Model Diplomacy package is very good at offering rubrics and ways to evaluate everything, and so—and I’m not a rubric person. I tend not to use rubrics, and this was an interesting way that it actually restructured the way I thought about rubrics, actually, and I’m starting to use them more in other classes that I’m teaching.
So I did find that there—they offer—the package, the CFR package actually supports your ability to integrate fairly seamlessly, and you have a choice as to how much of—how much of the simulation you want to use, and how you can—it’s very adaptable. And so in terms of evaluating the role play, it was very—it was quite easy for me to, you know, figure out who was going to—who stayed in character and who didn’t. Most of the time they do stay in character. It’s not really a problem.
The writing piece—I tended to emphasize that, how well they communicated, their policy, and—in their memorandum and their objectives. That wasn’t very difficult to evaluate either, and I could tell which students were more prepared than others based on the way they handled the simulation itself. And I was very transparent as to what I was looking for in the simulation prior to their sort of acting it out. So it wasn’t actually too much of a challenge.
KURTZ-PHELAN: We’ll go right over here.
Q: Rebecca Gibbons from Bowdoin College.
And I’ve—this semester I did use some of the materials, but I was a little scared off of doing the full simulation, so I just wanted to hear kind of the real nuts and bolts. If you put this in a syllabus, how many classes do you plan for, does it matter your class size? There was the email—like you have to put a code in and then your students get the code. That made me feel a little—you know, I was just like—I wasn’t sure I was ready for all of that, so if you could just talk a little bit about the nuts and bolts for all of us.
OKOH: Yeah, I jumped right in. I just took it on, and it did require some prior planning. And so because I situate the simulation in the last third of my course, I give them a heads-up in the syllabus. So there’s a section on the syllabus that describes the simulation and what’s expected of them, how much of the grade is dependent on it, and that we will begin preparing for it at a certain point in the semester.
The next step is to do the work of adding, you know, all of the students and getting their emails up in the site, and following up with them, reminding them that they need to respond to it—(laughs)—and so that, you know.
Size of class does matter. You need a minimum, I would say. Each simulation requires a certain number of roles—critical roles. I had a class of 20—about 20 students, which was awesome because then students could buddy up on roles, and they could be sort of—they play the—as a collective, they play the role. And I evaluate their memos and things like that based on how well each—you know, as a group, they’ve done it, so that’s a group kind of grade.
The second time I taught it was a smaller class for a variety of reasons. Some policy changes in the university made it so that students really didn’t—couldn’t find the class. Aside from that, we had just enough roles so each one person took on a role, which actually did change the dynamic a little bit. Students struggled a little bit more with the writing exercise, with preparing, and things like that.
They did end up working with each other differently, too—really meeting up to present their—you know, work out some of the differences that they anticipated in the simulation. So that is something to consider, but I did find it very useful to have students pair up to play roles, and it really supported and sort of, I think, nurtured quite a bit more confidence in them.
Q: Is there a max number—where you think a class of 35 would be too big?
OKOH: It might be, yeah. Yeah, I would say the sweet spot is around 20.
ALBERT: I have 24 right now, and it’s a bit difficult with the 24, and I didn’t combine them because I just wasn’t sure how to do that myself. But I created additional, customizable roles, which is a(n) option in Model Diplomacy, as well.
But 24, in my mind—it’s pushing it now, I’m seeing that, because their opening speeches are two to three minutes and so, bam, one day of the simulation is over just from their speeches, and that’s not fun because everybody is just going around and giving their speeches, and you want to get to the debates and the—you know, the real fighting or discourse—whatever the proper word is—between the students, and see policy shifts, and compromise, and negotiation, which occur really on days two and three.
So for me, I make it a—for sending out the code, I give that as a grade assignment, so I just tell them, you know, you’re going to get an email. All you have to do is accept it, and that’s a hundred percent of your grade—(laughter)—for that, and they go, oh, that’s easy! And still people don’t do it sometimes, but—so I just do that on the first day, and like Toja said, the last third of my class is on the simulation, so—built throughout the semester on the syllabus, and I’ll be happy to share a syllabus with any of you. If you just email me, you can see how it’s broken down. It’s—you know, probably around the 30 percent marker, a third of the way through, they have to do some of the assessments of the case itself that CFR provides, and then—and then we don’t talk about it again for another three or four weeks. And then I remind them to re-read the case, and their roles, and everything, and then we have three prep days, like I was saying earlier, where they can write their papers, they can come and talk to me, and they talk to each other.
And then we kind of have a practice day where we all see how we’re going to sit, how you’re going to feel, so we—I make them wear suits so that they get that it’s uncomfortable to sit somewhere in a long time in a suit—(laughter)—
OKOH: Yeah, I do the same, too—get them in character.
ALBERT: And get them in character—
OKOH: Yeah. It really helps, yeah.
ALBERT: —and they’ll complain about it. I’m like, you have to teach people how to tie ties and everything, which is awesome. It’s high learning, and—(laughter)—so I just, you know, spread it out through the semester like that. It’s not too intensive, and the best way that—I mean, I could just say if you want to try it, just go with it.
OKOH: Just jump in, yeah.
ALBERT: Just jump in and do it and, you know, don’t worry about it. It will come naturally. Just don’t negatively impact the students like if—it’s an instructor error problem, you know, if you misled them or something—not intentionally misled them, but like if it didn’t work out quite the right way, just change it around, give them a hundred. They’ll be all right—great evaluations. (Laughter.)
KURTZ-PHELAN: Karen, anything to add?
LYNDEN: I’ve done simulations with global virtual teams, and I think that structure beforehand, and just that the constant communication really helps out, having the structure, and also having those safe spaces, too. So I build in these milestones that are all or nothing, yes or no, yes or no, all the way through because I found that, over time, if I keep the students on track with their milestones, then the end result will occur. But if I let them project plan themselves—right, we all have urgent and important, and so those are things that our students are developing, skills for—over time, too, so they are learning those time management skills, and to help keep them on track is so important. So building in some points—some easy points early on will keep that behavior moving in a positive direction, especially if they are working on a team because they have to work through all their dynamics as team members, too, so I would say those are good.
KURTZ-PHELAN: We’ll go to the very, very back.
Q: Good morning, everyone. Hi. Inkan Formos Siskofski (ph), Florida State
So, since we’re talking about class size—this was a fascinating discussion. I’m actually integrating some of those Model U.N. things in my smaller classes, which are more like 50 students, but I also happen to teach an (entry ?) class which is 350 students, and there’s no sections and there’s no TAs.
MS. : Oh my goodness.
Q: I know it’s appalling; I didn’t design it. It’s just how it is.
So what resources does CFR or other things provide for making the large classes more interactive and discussion-based? Good luck. (Laughter.)
ALBERT: CFR has—I mean, you can incorporate a ton of information. I think some of them were sent out to you. But they have like background guides, they have—the modules that they are piloting now on World101 are really going to be beneficial for large class sizes, I think. And there’s a technique that you can do for large class sizes. Again, you have to trust the systems and trust the students, and then just hope it works, and leave it alone.
But you can give them each a situation to handle in small groups by themselves based on the CFR resources, and have them each tackle, in small-group exercises, you know—four to six is the sweet spot for me. I figure two—less than that they don’t do much because they’re shy. More than that, they start talking about Florida State football or something like that.
LYNDEN: The free riders.
ALBERT: Yeah, free riders, exactly.
So, you know, you just break them up into four or six, and then I just walk around in the larger classrooms and see if they are actually communicating, see if they’re discussing it properly, having engaged discourse with each other, teaching each other—peer-to-peer instruction. And sometimes it’s great; it works wonderfully sometimes. In other classes—I mean, you all know that you can teach two of the same courses in one semester, and one course that you’re doing that precise thing with this other is just phenomenal, and the other course just is lame and, you know—
LYNDEN: It’s true, yeah.
ALBERT: —it’s a nothing burger, like, you know.
So that’s what I—I would just say use the resources—or have them break down—integrate foreign affairs into the classroom and—I’m helping you out a little bit—
KURTZ-PHELAN: Get a site license.
ALBERT: Get a site license, or if not, the student’s descriptions, I think, are nine bucks a year or something—I don’t want to lowball it—
KURTZ-PHELAN: It’s—yeah, it’s—
ALBERT: Something like that—
KURTZ-PHELAN: A little more than that, but not much.
ALBERT: Nine bucks—yeah, I mean, it’s inexpensive for most students, especially if you use it to replace the textbook. I don’t like textbooks so I tend to use Foreign Affairs and just journal articles.
Have them each do a different Foreign Affair article, break—you know, small group discussion and then, you know, maybe they present on the last day of class, you know, what they found, or the main themes, or try to connect it to—if you lecture or provide that type of learning environment, connect what you learned—what they learned in Foreign Affairs to some of the larger concepts that you are teaching in the class. So small group exercises—but then, again, you just have to be—trust in the system, that’s it’s going to work, and they’re going to do their part. And usually they like that. I mean, the literature shows that that engagement really works when they feel like they’re heavily invested with each other and they’re not just being lectured to.
This generation does not—they don’t like being lectured to, so they’re super engaged, and savvy, and sophisticated, and just smart individuals, so let them be them and just work with the information. That’s what I would suggest.
LYNDEN: I would recommend the World101 materials, to take a look at those because it is engaging, and there’s a rhythm to those modules. So when you go through them you have interactives, you have videos, a little bit of text, and then links out to dive deeper into materials. So you can also use those teaching resources and skim through and see what are the questions that maybe you want to use or adapt, and so those could be short answers, it could be small little quizzes—multiple choice quizzes, or online discussions, too, so those are some ways that maybe you can use that package and then make it the best for your curriculum.
OKOH: And they’re—I think they’re fairly easy to integrate into these—the courseware stuff, the platforms that we use—Blackboard, SpringBoard, Brightspace, whatever.
KURTZ-PHELAN: I think we have time for one more. We’ll go to sort of the middle here, sitting.
Q: Great, thanks. So I’m hoping that you could share how you approach a couple of challenges that made me timid about implementing simulations in my classrooms. The first has to do with representation and positionality, and embodying other people, especially in a global context. I am admittedly a horrible actor, and I suspect many of my students would be as well, and I think that kind of sets up the risk for caricature.
And even outside of simulation context, my students and I already kind of, you know, worry a lot about who can speak for whom. And so when you have people speaking for others, how can you narrate that effectively?
And then the second concern I have has to do with the fact that, in a simulation environment, the students are not confronting the real risks and costs of life and death decisions, and I heard that some of your students have appealed to violence. You’ve also talked about, you know, maintaining the safety of that environment, so is there—is there a safe word in the simulations? Right, like how can you let the students take control while still preventing things from getting out of control?
OKOH: That’s a good—those are a good set of questions.
Yeah, so I had that moment where the student kind of, you know—naming the operation—the military operation they were going to use in South Sudan, the South Sudan simulation—he immediately got—like, I didn’t have to do anything. The students kind of went in and said, ah, uh-uh.
He tweaked it, and there was—then they did it in very sort of good-humored way where the student didn’t feel shut down, and it became a kind of joke at the end of the classroom—like at the end of the simulation, that we could have gone down that road, right?
So students already have a kind of—at least I hope the environment that I create through the semester up to that point provides a way of setting the norms for the class in how we think about the roles that we’re going to be playing, and I think this is why, you know, in a history class it’s actually—it works itself out already in the sense that they already have deep context. They’ve had visuals of what’s going on in Nigeria, for example, or in the Congo, that they’re able to visualize what this looks like in—sort of in the ways that they’re imagining the consequences of their policymaking.
I haven’t—I didn’t have the same trepidation about how—people taking on different roles—they would behave, in part because we already talk about—we talk a lot about power, and how power gets structured historically, and changes historically. And taking on the role of a U.N.—or a U.S. national security advisor or being in the sort of role of power—powered people, right, who are making very critical decisions for the—for U.S., but for the world, we already have a keen sense that we are holding power in the conversation. And I find that students don’t abuse it too much.
My more—my bolder students tend to—they know—they know—they know what the boundaries are, like there are certain—there are certain terms and terminologies that we—I have hammered into them that they need to be very clear and aware of using that are sort of historically no-goes, right, especially in the African context—like we don’t use the word tribe to talk about African societies and communities, and by the end of the semester, they’re very clear about that. And so their actual level of terminology, and understanding, and awareness is quite structured and quite nuanced by the time we get to that part of the course, at least in the environment that I’ve created in my course.
So I do think that for me it’s a very organic, kind of implicit thing that I try to create as we go along, that by the time we get there I have fair confidence that they are able to conduct themselves in a respectful and thoughtful way. And they haven’t—they haven’t disappointed me yet. I’ve only done it twice, so who knows? Yeah.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Any quick, final words on that set of questions?
ALBERT: I think—that’s why I run it at the end of the semester, as well, so that they’re already professionalized to what I require. But I also make them understand the chain of command on the NSC, and they—part of their grade is paying attention to the chain of command, so—and as well, to Robert’s Rules of procedure so they understand they have 30 seconds, and then the national security advisor, who runs the simulation, says, thank you, that’s it—after 30 seconds. So even if they are in the middle of a heated discourse, that’s it, and they’re—they’re going to be quiet afterwards. They might roll their eyes or something if they didn’t get their point across quickly enough, but they understand that that’s their grade, so—and all they have to do is follow the rules, you know, for 10 or 15 percent of their class, and so—10 percent of the class grade, and so when time is up, that’s it. They just—they understand that it’s time.
And then the president’s role is to kind of make sure that the conversation is going the way that the simulation suggests, so I spend a lot of time in office hours kind of coaching the president, coaching the national security advisor, coaching the vice president. Those are the three that are kind of running it for my simulations. And the class just listens to them, and I just sit back, and I haven’t had any real problems after—you know, if they pay attention to Robert’s Rules, and they understand the chain of command.
LYNDEN: Well, I don’t use either of those programs, but I would say, with any large group project, timing is everything in your semester. So I would just talk to colleagues—sometimes you have a great semester, sometimes you don’t, and so the more that we talk and share ideas, the better we can be.
KURTZ-PHELAN: All right, well, thank you so much. I’m sorry not to have gotten to everyone’s questions, but thanks to Karen, Craig and Toja, and you are now supposed to go to your breakout rooms for lunch. (Applause.)