Diplomatic Situations is a political science special topic course for this winter’s interim term (PSC 321, section 901). The course uses Statecraft 2.0, a simulation software created by James Madison University political science professor Jonathan Keller 14 years ago in an attempt to bring potentially boring subject matter to life.
“I wanted to take abstract concepts and theories that my students often had difficulty grasping, and make these vivid and clearly understandable,” Keller said. “I wanted students to personally experience the challenges and complexities of world politics – to get off the sidelines and become players.
The University’s political science course is completely online. The 45 students enrolled in the course are divided into teams, or countries, and each participant gets a role as a leader of their country.
Karl DeRouen, a political science professor, teaches Diplomatic Simulations and uses Statecraft to supplement other semester-long courses. He met a co-owner of the company at a conference, where he was introduced to Statecraft.
“It seemed like a good way to engage the students, because I teach a lot of theory and use, and the students sometimes aren’t engaged,” DeRouen said. “Some of the subject matter can be dry.”
Dylan Hamm, a junior majoring in political science, was the president of his team in the course last summer.
“I encourage people to take it, because I don’t want to say I learned more doing that [online simulation], but you kinda do,” Hamm said. “If there were more courses like it, I would probably take those too.”
DeRouen began using Statecraft in his classes in the spring of 2013. Since then, he has used Statecraft on and off in various courses. As the instructor, DeRouen has the power to throw in “surprises,” including things like terrorists, weather events and other crises students must react to.
There are roughly eight turns in a simulation, and for each turn students have to write a policy brief about their long-term goal as a team and how they are accomplishing their goals from the point of view of their role (president, defense secretary, secretary of state, for example). The turns are not all the same length, and students only know how long the current turn will be. Hamm said time management plays a big role in determining success in the course.
“I’d say I definitely spend a good amount of time on [the course],” Hamm said. “As the president [of the group] you have to, and I spent more time on it than I originally thought, but it was fun, and I enjoyed it.”
Michael Lasonczyk, a University alumnus currently in his first year of law school in Cincinnati, took the course during last winter’s interim period. He said reading the manual and deciding goals early was the best way to ensure success.
“I would tell students to go read the manual to the simulation all the way through and determine what type of goals they want to achieve right off the bat,” Lasonczyk said. “It is hard to be successful if you stumble the first few turns of the simulation.”
To decide the team goals and to coordinate actions for each turn, students have to be in nearly constant communication. DeRouen said the way students approach this obstacle has been fascinating to watch.
“That’s another interesting aspect of this course – that the students can be quite innovative when it comes to communicating,” DeRouen said. “In the real world, diplomacy has modernized over time, and it’s not just ambassadors taking horse and buggy across Europe. Now it’s emails and Dropboxes and all sorts of electronic communication.”
Lasonczyk was the president of his country, and he said his team used both Google Chat and a group iMessage to communicate frequently. He also used text messages and phone calls to communicate with the leaders of other countries to make deals.
Students who wish to sign up for the course are required to have a reliable internet connection on a daily basis, in addition to a $30 Statecraft account. DeRouen said the tech support team for the software is reliable and easy to reach in case of a glitch or error.
Students receive points for accomplishing goals and being the best country in a variety of categories. These points, in addition to policy briefs for each turn and a final exam, translate into the final course grade.