Simulation Story #4

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Simulation Story #4: U.S. SENATE
A professor from University of Montana-Western describes her experience with the U.S. Senate simulation.

Why I use the U.S. Senate simulation:
I teach at a college which emphasizes experiential learning, or integrating as much as possible into the classroom experience elements of the content that students learn about.

How ICONS connects with my course:
The course is a survey on American national (as well as state) government. The simulation is used as a capstone activity -- after students learn about a number of areas of governance, including the legislative process and bargaining among others, they take on the roles of Senators to get a hands-on sense of what it is like for legislators to work through the bill mark-up process.

Time I allot to each phase of the simulation (preparation, online negotiation, debrief):
Because we are a condensed, block system (students take one class at a time, 3 hours a day for 18 days), time allotment works differently than under a conventional semester long format. Students get their role assignments and are given a day or two to prepare; they then propose amendments, which are debated in committee and then voted upon. Another class session is used for online debate about the amended bills within the committees, and a last session is used to discuss passed bills as a full senate. We typically take half a class session to debrief the experience after the final votes by the full Senate.

Instructor and student roles during the simulation:
Students are expected to be fully engaged, with the committee chairs (or majority leader if the debate is in the full senate) setting the agenda and keeping everyone on track. I monitor as simcon and only step in if directly asked a question or if discussion seems to be getting way off track.

Learning objectives and assessment:
The learning objectives included achieving a more detailed grasp of the legislative process and to develop/refine negotiation skills. I assessed this through a review of their proposed amendments, review of their online negotiations, and through interviews in the debriefing session. The students, with very few exceptions, met these objectives satisfactorily.

My advice for instructors preparing to participate in an ICONS simulation for the first time:
Spend some time getting fairly well acquainted not only with procedure, but with the content of the simulations as well. I am constantly impressed with the level and amount of questions I get from students who have never done an activity quite like this before and having that firm foundation and knowing the sim as fully as I possibly can has made me a better resource. Second, I would suggest that as far as possible (so long as everyone is sticking to roles and not getting off track) let students have primary ownership of the simulation; obviously we need to step in if things need to be refocused or the rules are being broken, but my experience has been that students get more from a minimalist approach by the moderator. Lastly, be flexible -- students will post something to the wrong committee (if they are responsible for more than one), or technical glitches will occur -- it's just the nature of simulations in general. These things happen -- be ready to adjust as needed, and patient as possible in getting them resolved.

Final Thoughts:
A great resource for student learning. Highly recommended!

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.

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