25 June 2013

Games, Learning, and Autism Spectrum Disorders

As a parent of an HFASD child, I'm constantly attuned to news on interesting research programs that focus on socialization and learning for children on the Autism spectrum. I know from practical experience that non-competitive games are a great way for my HFASD daughter to engage in exploratory learning environments at her own pace. As the BBC noted yesterday researchers at the University of East Anglia have developed virtual reality scenario-based environments for people who suffer from anxiety. The idea is that allowing individuals who suffer from social anxiety to experiment in unfamiliar or stressful virtual environments will allow them to practice their social skills, debrief and reflect on their experiences, and plan out strategies in preparation for similar situations in the future. I'm also curious about the extent to which HFASD learners participate in simulations and decision-making games for their own enjoyment. Perhaps there's another research question & project to explore once I finish with my dissertation.

20 June 2013

Using Game-based Learning to Understand Violence Against Women

First off, the Half the Sky Movement is nothing short of amazing. Kristoff and Wu Dunn have constructed a complete and relevant learning environment by polyangulating different content and experiential resources; text, film (Part 1 and Part 2), and game. Since the film and game weren't ready for our GLOPO class until last fall, we've pushed off the study of Human Rights until this coming academic year. The delay in facilitating this unit (Human Rights) has been a difficult one. Over the past decade, I've taught world politics through the study of armed conflict and International Humanitarian Law (IHL). My classroom experience and feedback from students over the years has taught me that there is no better way for students to learn about these complex issues than to do so through games and simulations. As such, its been a real exercise in intellectual patience to keep our class from diving in to the study of human rights; playing and simulating all along the way. 

As if to highlight the necessity and urgency for students to learn about the geopolitical importance of IHL-especially as it relates to women-a number of news items crossed all sorts of media outlets today. Writing in The Atlantic, Olga Khazan documents the states who are most complicit in the latest incarnation of global slavery; that of Human Trafficking. Drawing on annual reports from Human Rights Watch and the United States Department of State, Khazan notes the ways in which women and girls are victimized at various points in the trafficking process. While the BBC notes that the governments of Russia and China objected to the State Department's assessment of the state of trafficking inside their respective societies, one does wonder how much more officials in Beijing and Moscow can or will do to combat the trafficking of women going forward. 

As heard today on NPR, the World Health Organization (WHO) has documented an extensive account of violence against women around the world. The statistics could not be clearer; more than one-third (35%) of all women around the world have been raped or physically abused. The consequences of this violence is pervasive and disturbing, and yet the WHO has made their analysis of this significant issue clear and accessible for a wide range of learners. On the policy side, it is interesting to consider the two maps above. On the left, the State Department's assessment of the problem of human trafficking. On the right, the prevalence of rape and physical abuse against women as documented by the WHO. Clearly, there are parts of the world where being a woman can be a tremendously difficult and dangerous existence. As cosmopolitans, we must continue to do more to facilitate learning about the hideousness of structural violence against women and girls. 

19 June 2013

Game-based Learning, Human Rights, and Displaced Persons

The UNHCR released a report this morning, highlighting the increasingly desperate state of affairs for refugees and IDPs around the world. Specifically, the UNHCR documented some 45,200,000 persons who are living outside of their homes as a result of forced migration; and these numbers do not count those displaced by the violence in Syria. Armed conflict remains the most common reason for people to flee their homes. In addition, the UNHCR report documents that developing countries are increasingly hosting the majority of refugees around the world. This fact has consequences for world politics insofar that these countries are less financially- and institutionally-equipped to support major flows of refugees than developed countries. Such situations can also exacerbate existing economic and identity-based cleavages in these societies, lessening the potential for sustained socioeconomic development and increasing the likelihood for intrastate violence amongst different groups.

[updated] The Smithsonian posted this very cool interactive map on the 50 most populated refugee camps around the world. NPR has also picked up this story today. There's nothing new in the story content, but NPR's photo of children scavenging for food and resources in a garbage dump is haunting:

While graphs and pictures certainly present one side of the refugee and IDP issue, they are not simply enough to truly appreciate the plight of displaced persons around the world. Thankfully, there are some great games that allow learners of all varieties to simulate the experiences of refugees and IDPs so that they may better understand the complex set of circumstances that can lead individuals to flee their home country. My favorite of late is Against All Odds. Published by the UN Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC), the game positions learners in a variety of simulated environments and circumstances in a hypothetical country. The UNRIC also hosts a broad range of resources to support & provide context for game-based learning. Against All Odds will be one of several games (Half the Sky, Darfur is Dying) our GLOPO 2 class will be engaging in the fall. 

17 June 2013

Three interesting reads on education today

The Wall Street Journal captures the growth of IB programs here in the United States [article]. As an staunch advocate for the International Baccalaureate, personalized learning, international mindedness, inquiry-based coursework, and a thousand other progressive learning standpoints, it's great to see that schools of all varieties (so long as they are the ones who are making this choice for their local students and communities) are embracing the IB.

Both Education Week [article] and the New York Times [article] offer related articles on the state of Maths education here in the States. EdWeek's article has a balanced view on the new front in the debate over whether states should require students to take Algebra 2 in High School. What the article doesn't cover-which The Atlantic does quite well-is that Americans don't use a tremendous amount of Maths in their jobs.

In addition, it is the upper-blue collar workers (think craft workers, construction, and similar) who use the most advanced Maths. Yes, STEM workers will need the skills taught more advanced Maths classes. However, this assumes that there are even jobs available for advanced scientists or that we even have a STEM shortage here in the States in the first place.This is not to skirt the importance of Maths; far from it. However, one would hope that those who make and implement policies and practices are able to take a macroscopic and integrated view of how the learning of Maths fits into our larger social and political context.

The NYT article adopts a much more thoughtful approach. Highlighting the philosophical camps in contemporary Maths educational reform, Crary and Wilson ask us to go beyond a dichotomous, zero-sum arguments about how Maths education should be facilitated (or worse yet, which standards are better than others) and to examine Maths as a rigorous, distinctive, and continual intellectual exercise. This position is not only the most reasonable, its also the one that most corresponds more closely to reality. We are better at anything (Maths, playing guitar, speaking Hebrew, teaching, being a parent, and everything else) the more we practice it and the more we seek to improve our practice over time.  

05 June 2013

Learning through simulations-student's views

My dissertation will examine the way that students appreciate the IB Global Politics syllabus topics through their participation in classroom games and simulations. As a bit of "research reconnaissance," I've posed selected questions to my students about how they have learned through some of the scenarios we've worked through in class this year. As a part of their 3rd term survey, the GLOPO students were tasked with evaluating the relevance of the different games and simulations from the term. Using a 4-point scale, each of the 16 students were asked to rate their experience in each of the four simulations with reference to the following prompt, The following simulations enhanced my understanding of global politics this term.

These results indicate that, on balance, students agreed that simulations enhanced their understanding of the material we covered in IB Global Politics this term. A majority indicated that the agree strongly with this assertion. Indeed, when combined with the agree somewhat responses, 76% of the students' responses had a favorable view of participating in simulations with respect to their learning.

Breaking the survey responses down a little deeper; the students participated in two different types of simulations this term. "Survival" and "Rushing River Cleanup" were generalized simulation designed to teach and assess participants' decision making skills. Both required the students to think strategically and tactically in a hypothetical context. Neither simulation required research on real-world, political topics or cases. While the favorable perception of simulation is still present, there is a relatively even perceptual split amongst students who agree strongly and agree somewhat as to the utility of these simulations in learning about global politics.


The other type of simulations were full-day simulations designed to replicate real events in world politics. Students participated in a single-day, mock Security Council as a part of Lynn University's High School Model United Nations simulation. The other simulation was conducted in-house as a full-day, peace conference centered around the Democratic Republic of Congo. Students overwhelmingly indicated that agree strongly best reflected their perception of these simulations as related to learning world politics. Although 38% of the students did not participate in the Model UN simulation due to conflicting activities, it is clear that those who participated felt that this was a useful learning experience.   Student responses to the DRC simulation offer the most compelling evidence that research-oriented, complex simulations are overwhelmingly appreciated by student participants. This is also supported by the qualitative evidence in the student commentary below.


These results set up some interesting research questions and hypotheses for future inquiry; do student perceptions of the utility of of simulations and games vary by type? Is there variation of usefulness of particular simulations within these categories? Posing a hypothetical null hypothesis; students see no difference in the type of simulation as a means to understand the IB Global Politics syllabus topics. 

A second way to look at the question of how students appreciate the study of global politics through their participation in games and simulations is to offer them the opportunity to write or comment on the topic. While I did not develop an exhaustive interview script for the students, they were asked to address the following prompt, What other thoughts or commentary would you like to make regarding the simulations from this term's work? Their responses-listed below-offer some keen insights into the specific perceptions of the role of simulations in their learning. These responses also suggest that constructing a way of capturing and analyzing student responses-most likely through content analysis-can offer a more nuanced perspective on this topic as I finalize data collection methods for my dissertation. Please feel free to read through and comment on the unedited student responses below.

  • I feel like the most important one was the DRC simulation because you harnessed the inherent competitiveness and superiority complexes of our class and turned them into a useful political thing where we all learned something about theory and the practicality of it as well as the overwhelming difficulty of resolution
  • I liked the simulations
  • I prepared for Lynn MUN but was not able to participate because I took part in the Mach of the Living.  The survival simulation, in my opinion, would have been more appropriately placed in the units concerning IR theory or , because of the individual groups coming to their own opinions and then the groups working together.  The choices and compromises made model a negotiation process.  In my opinion it would have been ideal to take part in this simulation during the Iran unit to further explore negotiations with hostile states and organizations with different goals. Unfortunately I missed Rushing River for the March as well and I missed the DRC simulation for a family issue. However, I view the March as a simulation.  I witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust by actually going to the places where millions of lives were taken.  I spoke to survivors about their hardships and explored political implications such as sovereignty, human rights, armed conflict, and finally the global community defining genocide.
  • I didn't really think that the survival simulation taught me a lot about global politics.  It made us work together and come to agreements in our small groups and would have done the same thing when the whole class came together to make a master list, but someone googled the answers so it didn't really work.  I had the play during LUMUN...I thought the Rushing River simulation was really effective because it put us in actual negotiating situations where we had to compromise and experience betrayal and such.  I thought the DRC simulation was the best one because it was the most fun and also the most like real life with the debates and meetings and such.
  • They were extremely helpful and i felt well prepared for them.
  • The simulations were key in helping me grasp the material presented. They not only helped me understand what was discussed in class, but helped a lot in doing my final IA this term. 
  • The simulations were the most effective and successful was of enhancing my understanding of global politics.
  • All enhanced my understanding and demonstrated obstacles to resolving internal conflicts. 
  • the simulations were a great experience that further improved my understanding of the class
  • Applying the theory with R2P at Lynn Model UN and credible commitment theory at the DCR simulation was helpful and enjoyable. They helped illustrate the difficulties of putting abstractions into practice. I sincerely felt that the simulations had pragmatic applications in that they helped prepare me for the real world; that's something I can't say about most of my K-12 experiences. 
  • I found the Iran simulation very helpful in both understanding what was going on in Iran, but also what steps would be taken in deciding whether or not to attack and the results of an attack on the rest of the world. It really tied in everything we read and made it "real", which for me was great because I tend to learn better by visualizing things, rather than solely basing my understanding on reading. 
  • Survival-I really enjoyed this exercise. I actually think the most valuable part of this was at the end during our discussion over which items were best, for our arguments forced us to support our facts and fight for what we believed in, simulation a peace-making discussion. Lynn MUN-Because of the play, I was not able to actually go to the MUN itself. I did help my group prepare, but that only does so much. I definitely want to go to a MUN next year; they seem like fun! Rushing River Cleanup-Originally, the reason I was going to rate this lower was because I did not have as much of a hand as I wanted to in my group. This is because I was with Max and Michael, and obviously they took omnipotent control. However, I did gain valuable insight during our classroom discussion at the end and learned the importance of cooperation (and secret meetings). This experience also prepared me for the DRC simulation, for I used what I learned about cooperation (and other classmates) during this exercise to help me get my position across as South Africa. DRC-BIG BIG yes to this one. This was probably one of my favorite days of this entire year, not just in Global Politics. I could go on and on about how valuable this day was overall, but I'll just sum it up by saying that I learned a tremendous amount about not only the foreign affairs in the DRC, but the many elements of conflict as well. Looking back, I now realize how much the first three simulations helped us for the final DRC one.
  • I really enjoyed all of the simulations we attended or did in class. I don't know if it would be possible but more of these simulations would be great because I find that I learn a lot from participating in these simulations. I also enjoy them a lot too.
  • The simulations were key in building my interest for the course. I enjoyed MUN and DRC simulation. In the future, I hope to take part in more MUNs. I believe that the simulations are the core to this particular course.
  • I have realized that this is absolutely the way that I learn best. I was uncomfortable with the idea at first but not anymore. By the end of the term I was actually looking forward to the DRC simulation both when I was outside and inside of school. I wish that my other teacher's followed suit in using simulations. 

De-grading my classroom at the end of the year.

The results are in! As I've previously written, I offered my students a the opportunity to reflect on their work this term through a comprehensive survey. Included in this review, students had the opportunity to identify the letter grade they wished to receive for the course, along with a narrative justification for why I should enter this grade for into the grade book. Over a number of conversations, I made it clear that I am primarily concerned with their learning; what they are good at, where they need to improve, and the like. I also spoke with some parents about this assessment piece as well. All in all, we had some very thoughtful discussions ranging from gender bias in grades and testing to the consequences for students who choose grades that did not accurately reflect their learning this year. Here are some of my initial take away points from the survey:

  • Not every student chose to give themselves an A+.
    • 10 A+s (62.5%)
    • 5 As (31.25%)
    • 1 B+ (6.25%)
  • Students chose grades based on a variety of factors, including: 
    • intelectual development throughout the year
    • merit of work during the term
    • the need to maintain a high GPA
    • the grade's impact on university admissions next year.
  • Students offered differing perspectives on the role and utility of games and simulations in the learning process
  • To a large extent, students accurately marked their IB Internal Assessment
    • Most students did not give themselves the highest marks.
Many people shudder at the idea that students would have the exclusive agency to determine what grade would be entered into the grade book. These fears run the gambit, ranging from a fear of lost control in the classroom to a fear of students taking advantage of the situation and inflating their grades. In contrast, Mark Barnes contends that giving students sole control of what goes into the grade book can be a powerful teaching and learning tool. Students are given the opportunity to thoroughly reflect on their education over a term. Students have to engage in ethical decision-making exercises about the ways in which they will justify their grades. From a social science standpoint; giving students complete freedom to determine their grade is an excellent chance to see how social constraints, individual preferences, and strategic choices can effect outcomes in single-iteration games. 

It was very interesting to see that students did not always give themselves an A+. Even amongst those students who did, some (as outlined below) offered that they did so for reasons other than the fact that they deserved it. Some saw the need to stay competitive with respect to university admissions; the A+ would boost their GPA in this regard. Others felt that it would be unwise to take anything less than an A+ since others were choosing A+s for themselves; a problem of collective action. Regardless of their motives, each student provided thoughtful, honest commentary about the letter grade they desired for the term. Many students took the opportunity to talk about the ways in which their writing, research, or other skills have developed over the year. These comments, along with a plethora of other data that I will post here in the next few days, speaks volumes about how students see and articulate their role in the learning process. I plan to use the full results of this survey as a launching point for their work starting again in August. After a few months off, I suspect each student will critically appraise their survey responses, identify (along with myself) areas where they are in need of improvement, and continue their intellectual development as we encounter the complex study of Human Rights and Development in the fall. 

I have absolutely no qualms about entering each student's chosen grade into the grade book. As an instructor, this term has been incredibly valuable as I have focused more and more on feedback and individualized instruction and learning. I have transitioned from arbitrarily assigning grades to the students in the class to allowing the learners themselves to determine the grades for their grade books. As a result, we all have been able to focus more of our attention on extrapolating understanding form complex texts; developing research skills through the analysis and synthesis of primary and secondary source data; participating in meaningful experiential learning exercises through simulations and games; and to take the time to review on our learning as a whole through regular and meaningful reflection. 

Unedited Student Comments

  1. I have worked hard and tried my best this final trimester. Even thought the past 2 trimesters i've gotten B  and B- due to the lack of analyzing properly my ideas. I believe that through the year I have improved my writing and understanding skills concerning politics topics.  
  2. I think I deserve an A+ because first, I read and participated in all of the discussions regarding the readings, participated actively in all the simulations I could attend, and was able to marry both theory and practice in the IA that I turned in. I went above the reading requirement and took on reading other authors to broaden my political knowledge base in preparation for the exam and college where I now want to dual concentrate in human rights studies and thus I have began reading Samantha Power's "A Problem From Hell." I believe I not only met expectations but exceed them for the most part and I believe my IA was well done, thus I am asking for the A+.
  3. I really wanted to do well this trimester, and really tried. I read a lot of the sources, and tried to apply my knowledge accordingly. I know I am not the best at writing an essay in this class, but I understood the concepts. I will revise my IA and work on it more.
  4. Why do I deserve an A+? Quite honestly I don't think that I do. But I want it. Unfortunately due to my trip I missed out on a lot of material including 3 of the 4 simulations this trimester, however; I feel that my trip was a learning experience on its own. Do I want the A+? Of course. Will it do anything to my grade? No not really. I have consistently received A-'s all year and I feel as if my situation this trimester has pit me at a disadvantage to continue my trend. Furthermore I am aiming for an Ivy League education (Go Columbia) and I need as many A's in accelerated classes to obtain a competitive GPA for the college application process. I had a solid understanding of concepts presented up until this trimester and i feel that i have fully understood the limited work I have completed this trimester. The goal of my asking for an A+ is to hopefully increase my overall grade for the year to a flat A.
  5. I read all of the assignments, did all of the work, and participated in every simulation that I was able to go to. Although I don't really speak in front of the whole class, I do a good job of communicating my thoughts to my partners and contribute a lot to group projects, even if I don't do the actual presentation. That's why I didn't think I should get the +, because doing and understanding the work is good and does what is required of me, but I don't really step out and present my ideas as my own, i kind of just let them contribute to the group's work. Upon reflection, I did all of the work that was asked of me and I tried my hardest on all of these assignments. Even though I did not speak a lot about my ideas, this shouldn't really influence my overall grade which was based on only those ideas. However, it can still be something I work on for next year without having an effect on my grade this year.
  6. I have put a lot of effort into this class through the year, and have been appropriately prepared for everything. I do not think i have done anything this year that would merit a bunch of points being taken away. I have had an A+ or almost an A+ the entire year, and would like to continue that trend, so that when I apply to selective colleges my grades are good. This is also a safety net, because if I do badly on the IA I don't want my grade to plummet below A-, as that would kill my GPA (which, unfortunately, is much more important than I wish it was)
  7. I have put forth effort in all aspects of the class this trimester. I played an active role, specifically towards our article presentations and simulation activities. I have tried to demonstrate my knowledge and understanding of the presented material as best I can. I have learned so much, not only about our topics this trimester, but also improving my writing and analytical skills. In addition to all of this, I really need to end with an A in the class to balance out my french grade for the year and save my gpa. I believe that only an A+ will bring my A- from first and second trimester to an A. I do think that I put forth much effort into this class this trimester, and I was able to learn and grasp the course material.
  8. For starters, I hate giving myself a grade. I feel that an A+ should be entered because of my active participation in class discussion and simulations I was able to attend. I also gave a successful presentation on my assigned reading. The last two terms I received an A+ as well and I feel as if this term I have put in an equal amount of work as well as level of participation.
  9. The effort was there and I took away and reflected on the simulations and readings. For example, at LUMUN I was a delegate from Morocco and for the simulation I was Belgium. Both are relatively low key players. Upon reflection of these events, I now realize the unequal distributions of power among parties in resolution talks. This is just one example of how I have learned through experience. Thank you for a great Year 1. Have a good summer.
  10. i did all of the work so far this term and i did the work to the best of my abilities. also there was not that many assignments this trimester in the first place, and so far i think i received an A on all of the assignments except for the IA, which has not been graded yet, so unless my IA is a complete and udder failure i don't see why i should not receive an A for this trimester. If my IA happens to be terrible, just know that i tried my best but I'm not completely confident in my essays because for some reason even though i know what i am talking about in my mind, it does not come out that way on paper because i have trouble expressing my ideas clearly. But an A would Be nice...
  11. I feel that I've excelled in IB GloPol Year 1. My term papers have all been thoroughly researched and applicable to the engagement activities, all of which I have attended. My writing skills have improved considerably and the course has also developed my ability to synthesize complex source material. Before this year, I never could have understood, let alone analyze, the arguments presented by Walter, Sagan, and Brown. I can break down world issues and substantiate my claims with research and theory. I look forward to continuing to improve as a politics student in HL year 2 and I hope to formulate and work on my own original research question in my extended essay.
  12. "Well, I would like an A+ because of the wonders it will do to my GPA but I know that if my dedication to Global Politics equates to a grade mark, I would not deserve an A+. With my busy schedule and lack of time management skills year, I found it hard to truly focus on any one class for long spurts of time. I tried my best to put in as much effort as I could because I want to major in international relations (or political science) in college, and this is one of the few classes I actually learn in, but I found myself trying to balance too much and wasn't able to put in as much of my time as I would of liked. That being said, this will not occur next year because quite frankly I'll die if I put myself through that (this) again and I want to be able to get the most of this course before I go to college. I'd really like the A+ because when I apply to college and I place international relations or political science as an intended major I don't want to have an awful grade representing global politics and be regarded as a joke by admissions. I would be forever grateful if you gave me that A+ and hopefully will help me get into a good college."
  13. I truly believe that i have earned an A in the class. Though I am annoyingly talkative, I think that I do add something to the class and have really enjoyed this year. I have improved from the first trimester, going from the Iran paper (which I did poorly on then corrected), to the malaria paper (which I did well on), to this final DRC IA, which I consider my best one yet. My knowledge in global politics has certainly skyrocketed, and I can now have a much more educated conversation with someone about foreign affairs (I actually had one with my grandpa about Iran the other day!).
  14. I have attended all of the simulations and played a big role in almost all of them. I have done all of the required readings and turned in all of my work on time. I received good grades and feedback on my writing assignments and IAs that were turned in to you. I guess that is why I think I deserve this grade. It has been a good year, and I am looking forward to next year.
  15. It was a hard decision between the A and the A+, but I chose the A for multiple of reasons. I started off the year uneasy. I wasn’t able to express my ideas on paper. This was seen in my Drezner book review. I wasn’t able to grasp the material. However after talking to you and revising work, I started to understand where I was going wrong. This was shown in my well crafted position paper for Cameroon. At this point, the course became one of my favorite. I enjoy understanding the problems and issues that “third- world” countries have to face. Through my experience at LUMUN as a Rwandan delegate, I displayed my superior knowledge of international politics through the voice of small and underprivileged country. The DRC simulation offered a new challenge to me. I had to represent a large organization the UN, something I was not use to. However, I think I was quite successful. I successfully created and presented a well crafted ceasefire agreement which was actually passed. Because of my strong interest for simulations specifically model UN type of simulations, I believe that I have mastered the content for IB Global Politics Year 1. I chose A for my final grade due to the slow start I had at the end. If I was at the level that I am at today, I believe I could have easily argued an A+.
  16. I really need to make up for the fiasco that was TOK this trimester. Besides that, I believe that I was a leader during the simulations which is really what I excel in. I did the readings, I did extra readings on the study of International Relations, and I vastly improved my conduct from the beginning of the year. Please reward me!