Teaching Model Diplomacy at Augusta University
Who: Dr. Craig Albert, associate professor of political science; director, master of arts in intelligence and security studies; director, Model United Nations (Model UN) program
Where: Augusta University
What: The North Korean Nuclear Threat case
When: The last two weeks of a semester
Why: “I teach to reach students that have no idea that they know how to think, and that they’re good people, and that they have dignity and honor just in being who they are.”
CFR’s Outreach Deputy Director Will Davis spoke with Dr. Albert in early 2018. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How were you introduced to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)?
Through my subscription to Foreign Affairs early on in graduate school. You know what I did when I first started teaching my own classes? I came across an alert that you could create your own textbooks using articles in Foreign Affairs, and so I used it for my first few international relations classes. That is when I became pretty much obsessed with using Foreign Affairs and CFR resources for my classroom.
What first interested you about Model Diplomacy?
I was invited to the 2015 CFR College and University Educators Workshop, and Model Diplomacy was just being piloted that semester. Because I was already interested in simulations, and some of my research is on the scholarship of teaching and learning, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I was hooked as soon as I heard what CFR was doing, especially when I heard that it was free, and it came with all the instructional resources and student material needed to implement it successfully. I was, like, yes! This is awesome!
And how did you adapt it for your students?
The fall of 2017 was my first time running a simulation. I did not prep as much as I should have, so I let students learn independently through your website. I just expected them to do everything that you had on there. It was really an informal pilot to see whether they liked it and learned from it, and it was extremely successful. Based on their feedback, I made adjustments and integrated it fully into my syllabus.
This semester I scheduled two weeks of prep based on all the material provided by CFR. I based daily written assignments on the assessment questions, and had them answer them to make sure they were reading and are ready for the simulation at the end of the term.
We will run the simulation the last two weeks of the course. I did this last semester as well. It was a bit tricky because I was teaching a kind of fun class. It was foreign policy, but the focus was on special operations forces. I was trying to integrate the idea of how special operators influence foreign policy, and vice versa, and I found the Drones in Pakistan simulation, and I said “this is going to be great because it’s perfect to test out for special operations.” I adjusted it to elaborate on the notion mentioned in the case of whether we should have an option of special operations forces.
I created my own attachments to the National Security Council (NSC) portion, as well, based on the tenets of the class. For example, instead of only having the Director of National Intelligence, I threw in the CIA director as well, and then put in a U.S. Special Forces commander and a couple of other roles to make it more relevant to the class.
What sort of feedback did you hear from your students?
My students absolutely loved it. They had a couple of suggestions for me on how to integrate it into the course and how to make simulation directions more user friendly. On the first day of the simulation, they were very nervous and didn’t know what quite to expect. They warned me about that for the next semester, to really prep them on everything.
In this semester’s class, which is a different topic—security studies—I have three or four full days of class devoted just to the rules of the simulation before we actually start the simulation.
Also, I automatically assigned their roles last semester. Students asked for a say in the matter, so now I’m giving them a chance to request roles. Most of the class re-enrolled for the security studies class this semester based on the simulation. It was a really good experience for them.
You’ve mentioned how Model Diplomacy could be the basis for a research project. Can you tell us a little bit more?
I do research on games and simulations, especially in the field of experiential learning, and I’m well-published in the Model UN arena.
The research I do is on pre-test/post-test student skill sets. What do students actually learn, how can we measure student academic and social integration? By social integration, I mean does this particular simulation help them connect with their peers, to the course, to the school, the university, to academia as a whole? The research shows that simulations do this, and so I want to test Model Diplomacy. Intuitively, I know it does just by looking at it—I can tell it was a bonding element for the students.
The other side of the coin is academic integration. There is some controversy in the field as to whether simulations and games—either online or in person—really help academic performance. I look at how games help higher order learning as well as increase knowledge of content. It was very clear from this simulation that students were thinking creatively, thinking analytically, and really accessing those higher order learning tools.
So while not all students may have learned what the proper role of the NSC is based on a short simulation, they certainly learned how to think quickly on their feet, how to hear somebody else’s argument, how to debate, how to give a two-minute policy speech, and to respond to a question about that speech. They learn things we don’t typically measure in political science. Because we’re so content knowledge based or specific skill set based, we sometimes miss the fact that students need to learn skills more apt for employability and graduate school studies—critical thinking and analysis.
What advice would you give an educator interested in doing their first Model Diplomacy simulation?
Don’t be afraid to mess up. Go with it. Do your research on how to integrate it into your classroom and syllabus. Also, let the class know that you are piloting Model Diplomacy and see how it goes. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself as the professor or the students.
The first time I did a simulation, I had to interrupt a few times, respond to points of clarification and things of that nature, and that was fine. The feedback I got from those sessions helped me pre-load and front-load the information for this semester so it will be much smoother.
After running my first simulation I felt fully confident using Model Diplomacy. This semester, I’m much more prepared. But even the first time I ran it, the students said that they loved the simulation, they learned a lot, and that it was a different way of learning. A cooler way of learning.
You created Augusta University’s Model UN program. How does Model Diplomacy complement Model UN?
Model Diplomacy is a great way to introduce students to the whole world of immersion simulations. I’ve been trying to figure out how to integrate Model Diplomacy into Model UN.
Currently, students have to pay a lot of money to go on a trip to places like New York for Model UN competitions, and that’s not truly inclusive.
Model Diplomacy is fully inclusive; it’s free, there’s no cost involved, and students can get a taste of what an actual Model UN experience is by using Model Diplomacy. It is a bit different in that it’s case-centric and focused on the U.S. National Security Council, but the idea is the same. You have to write a policy position, know a particular topic, know a country, and know your role properly. Everything you need to perform well at a Model UN competition is exactly what CFR provides.
What I like more about Model Diplomacy than any of the Model UN organizations I’ve been involved in is how much source material is provided. For Model UN students have to figure out where to find research for help in writing policy reports and position papers. The first two or three weeks of class is teaching them where to go to find the speeches, documents, and resolutions from the United Nations. With Model Diplomacy, it’s all right there and well laid out. All the students have to do is read—no additional research is required—which is just an amazing teaching tool and an amazing tool for students.
Are there any other CFR resources that you would recommend?
There are backgrounders that CFR has on certain topics on the website, which are good for the simulations. I assign Foreign Affairs articles and background guides on topics for all my international relations classes, so everybody that comes out of my upper-level classes is familiar with CFR by the end of the course.
I try to assign a CFR book each semester. I always highlight in the syllabus and when we’re discussing the book that these individuals are CFR fellows or researchers. I also ask students to follow CFR on Twitter and Facebook, and I always include a link to a Foreign Affairs article in my syllabus.
How do you find quality academic resources for your students?
It is definitely hard to find reliable academic free resources, especially for international relations, foreign policy, and security studies. CFR provides a wealth of links and videos speaking directly to the subjects we’re discussing in class. It’s not just that it is free information—I know I can trust it. CFR’s resources are research oriented, properly sourced, accessible, and inclusive.
And I ask students to sign up for the Foreign Affairs student subscriptions too, because those articles are phenomenal, the rate is ridiculously low, and they get access to landmark publications in Foreign Affairs, like “The Clash of Civilizations?” and things of that nature. You tie that with everything that Model Diplomacy does, and it’s a fully integrative experience for students.