When remote learning began on March 30, students in the Foundations of Comparative Politics course had just begun their Russian study cycle, one of six including Mexico, Germany, Singapore, Nigeria, and China. The political science course, taught by Professor Paul Dosh, uses comparative analysis to examine political outcomes within and across countries. This spring, says Dosh, “students have been innovating new ways to learn online via Zoom.”
“Still in costume with virtual backdrops, Solomon and Ben answered audience questions live via Zoom, staying in character.”
—Professor Paul Dosh
Part of each student’s grade includes class leadership assignments—creating “partisan narratives,” first-person speeches by real-life political actors, or working in small groups to co-direct a simulation or debate of a political topic.
In April, Solomon Katz ’23 (Bronx, N.Y.) and Ben Maruggi ’23 (Minneapolis) created partisan narratives by Russian President Vladimir Putin and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, respectively. Their presentation, says Dosh, began with PDF “letters” from Putin and Navalny. Putin wrote from the Kremlin and Navalny from prison. The students formatted the letters to evoke their source: Navalny’s is hand-written, while Putin’s is type-written on official-looking letterhead with a header in Cyrillic. Then, both students pre-recorded a speech from each character.
“In our Zoom class, first everyone read the two letters,” says Dosh. “Then they screen-shared the two pre-recorded videos. And then, still in costume with virtual backdrops, Solomon and Ben answered audience questions live via Zoom, staying in character. Together they taught us about Russian domestic politics and corruption battles.”
“That gave us options with gamification, opportunities for spies to disrupt things, just to keep people interested and on their toes.”
—Lia Pak ’23
The following week, four students wrote and directed what Dosh describes as “an epic 22-character simulation,” titled “Russian Roundtable on Crimea Annexation.” Team members Lia Pak ’23 (Northfield, Minn.), Linden Kronberg ’22 (Ann Arbor, Mich.), Franny Redpath ’23 (Helena, Mont.), Ethan Deutsch ’22 (Kyle, Texas), and class preceptor Karinna Gerhardt ’20 (Seattle)—now scattered across the country—met over Zoom to create the simulation and present it to their classmates.
Pak says the project “took lots of coordinating, figuring out the mechanics and planning every minute of the simulation. Plus, we had to learn how to use the Zoom platform.” The team wrote 18 character dossiers for their classmates, featuring journalists, Russian political figures, and world leaders from Ukraine, Germany, and the U.S.
During the 80-minute presentation on Zoom, class members each played a role, dressing up and debating as a character, and using individualized virtual backgrounds to indicate their affiliation. The team members took part as journalists and helped moderate the debate. In ordinary classroom simulations, things like protests would be lodged in person. For Zoom, the team designed game mechanics such as accusation cards to out potential spies, and silence cards to suppress political speech that were used through private messaging or screen-sharing.
“A lot of the fun came with the gamification,” says Pak. “We had a variety of political actors, allies, and groups of Russian activists and we were thinking that, first of all, they wouldn’t all be in the same room together, but if they were, there would be different power imbalances. That gave us options with gamification, opportunities for spies to disrupt things, just to keep people interested and on their toes.”
Dosh calls the production “incredible.” Simulations, he says, help students see political struggles from different perspectives and challenge them to make persuasive arguments verbally, drawing on evidence that a particular audience would find convincing.
“The simulation reaffirmed my interest in this class,” says Pak. “It was a really good opportunity to have a bit of fun with remote learning. It’s not ideal. We would have rather have done it in person, but we used the circumstances to our advantage.”
April 24 2020Back to top