Thinking Like the Police: An Assessment of the Cumulative Effects of Simulations in Political Science Teaching
21 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2012 Last revised: 13 Mar 2012
Within political science, the use of simulations as a teaching tool has increased substantially, but rigorous studies on their effects and/or effectiveness as an ‘active learning’ technique have not kept pace. Admittedly, there have been an increasing number of studies that have sought to measure the effects and/or effectiveness of simulations, but these are typically limited to one simulation, or at the very least the same simulation format across different groups of students. This paper seeks to add to existing empirical research on the effects of using simulations within political science teaching by examining the cumulative effects of their use on the same group of students. Within a semi-controlled environment (same group of students; same course; same instructors), three different simulations were run over the course of a semester (spaced two weeks apart). The course within which these simulations were run focused on the decisionmaking processes of various political actors involved in adopting policing strategies and policies. In particular, one role-play simulated a government’s response to protests; one simulated the decision-making process involved in adopting an administrative detention policy; and one simulated the choices involved in adopting a national-level response to a national security threat, with respect to protest policing, detention policies and interrogation techniques. Pre- and Post-simulation quizzes were administered to get at the effectiveness of simulations in teaching content in particular. Post-simulation surveys were employed to assess self-reported effects of this active learning technique on: cognitive learning of both content and analytical skills; and affective learning regarding subject matter and self-awareness. This analysis of independent and cumulative effects was supplemented by external observers evaluating the students’ performance over the course of the three simulations.
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