By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—“Wow!”
That’s what Dr. Jean Abshire, associate professor of political science and international studies said, when she learned that her teaching practice had not been attempted before.
Abshire wanted to transform a simulation designed for face-to-face classroom instruction into an asynchronous learning experience for her online Latin American Politics course, and had asked the creator for guidance.
The creator knew of noone who had attempted the feat.
The simulation was “Collapse in Venezuela” from the Model Diplomacy series produced by the highly respected Council on Foreign Relations. It envisions a scenario in which Venezuela defaults on international loans, precipitating an economic and political crisis, with wide-ranging ramifications for regional stability, global oil supplies and finance. Students take on the role of U.S. National Security Council (NSC) members monitoring and analyzing the unfolding events, debating options for a U.S. response, and making recommendations to the President, who will take action based on the information they put forward.
Abshire has used simulations successfully in the face-to-face classroom, but this was a new challenge. The real-world events were complex, and asynchronous learning has in-built limitations.
“Online contexts are more challenging and assignments need particular care to be truly engaging and interactive,” Abshire said.
In particular, the process can devolve into a stagnant routine of posting statements in response to prompts.
“This may not engage students as fully as if they must assume a role in a particular crisis context, make decisions about what policy to pursue and how to persuade others to agree with their position, and then to implement that plan through persuasion in discussions and negotiations, adapting it in response to the actions of other students/roles as the simulation progresses,” Abshire said.
She met these challenges by reformulating both the materials and the process.
She reduced the size and scope of background videos and readings to make the simulation more manageable for students having to work more independently. She followed this with a supplementary set of materials for deeper research, and individual role sheets for their “character,” as well as specific prompts in Canvas for online discussions.
“I wanted to try to make sure that my asynchronous online students have a truly comparable experience to students I have in my physical classroom,” Abshire said. “With research on simulation-based active learning being so strong, I needed to offer this to my online students just as I do my face-to-face students despite the unique challenges of an asynchronous online simulation.”
Abshire believes her approach has helped her students on a variety of levels.
“Model Diplomacy offers deep context and multi-faceted issues and problems, but it offers specific policy options to work from, giving online students beneficial support as they work to develop their own policy approaches,” Abshire said. “This allows me to deliver the benefits of active learning simulations without overwhelming students.”
Student feedback suggests that her methods are working. But for Abshire, the data was even more compelling.
“Direct assessment of student learning indicated greater learning about Venezuela’s situation than for other units about other countries that did not have a simulation,” Abshire said.