Simulation Story #1

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A professor from Towson University describes her experience with the International System simulation.

Why I participate in the International System simulation:
We consider it a valuable learning tool to help students understand the intricacies, unpredictability, and complexity of international negotiations. It also helps students understand the importance of solid research and preparation for fruitful negotiations.

How ICONS connects with my course:
The simulation is the main part of the course. After a few lectures providing background on the country we represent, we divide into bureaus according to the sim categories. Former participants who did very well the year before are invited back as bureau chiefs to lead each bureau. Each student gets one-two questions, and they are responsible the entire semester for becoming our country's expert on that issue(s) and providing policy recommendations. Country choice is determined by the instructor's choice and expertise.

How my students prepare for the simulation:
WRITTEN -- Students submit 1) an outline; 2) two weeks later a first draft; 3) two weeks later a second draft, each which requires students to provide the following components: background (country and issue relevant), policy recommendations, policy proposal, justification, negotiation strategies, and conclusion. The final paper must account for what happened in the sim. They also prepare communiques of varying lengths to send in the sim to promote policies and negotiation positions.
ORAL -- Students must orally present their policies and communiques at regular intervals, as well as provide de-briefing following each conference. Discussions are held regarding the merits, accuracy for our state, potential drawbacks, and potential supporters for each policy. Please see my publicly presented paper regarding the class setup and procedures.

Instructor and student roles during the simulation:
One student is appointed each day to track all communication traffic with our team. Bureau chiefs allocate messages within their bureaus. Students are responsible for reading and responding to these messages. Bureau chiefs also help students prepare for any conferences that week, which includes preparing responses for questions on our policies and preparing questions/comments on others' policies. I meet regularly with students to answer questions, direct students to resources as needed, and ensure country accuracy.

Learning objectives and assessment:
They learn a great deal about their country's politics, history, and culture; the relevant international issue; other countries' positions on that issue; and the difficulties involved in international negotiations. Learning is assessed through written and oral work and a review of the quality (not quantity) of their participation in the simulation, the depth and accuracy of their knowledge about the country and their assigned issue(s). Students must also provide written evaluations of their work in the simulation, as well as evaluate their bureau chief and co-bureau members.

My advice for instructors preparing to participate in an ICONS simulation for the first time:
There is a learning curve, but it quickly gets easier to run. Organization of students is paramount, but if you are enthusiastic, they will be too. For almost every student who has taken it, they state that it is a lot of work, but is also the course where they feel that they learned the most because they actually get to put ideas into action and try out different approaches to international situations. I recommend NOT being the US to ensure your students also learn about another country and are less trapped in their own political preferences, which requires making sure they represent that country accurately, not how they wish it to be. Overall, this class has been the best experience of my teaching career.

Do you have a story to share about how you incorporated an ICONS simulation into your instruction? ICONS would like to post it in this special section of our website. Please email us at or call us at (301) 405-4172 to participate.

ICONS Project