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August 29, 2005

ICONS: Simulating the Game of Global Politics Online


ICONS is a program developed by the University of Maryland that weds the study of global politics - for high school, university, and professional-level students - with live, simulated negotiation. Anyone who did Model U.N. in high school will find this familiar. Only with ICONS, the simulation space is online and conferences take place across the network.

Each academic year ICONS organizes distributed and single-classroom simulations for paying participants. Scenarios are timely and relevant to real-world political developments, ranging from international health crises, to environmental or financial treaties, to security and anti-terrorism issues. The idea is for an ICONS simulation to be inserted into a lesson plan or curriculum as a purpose-driven, high stakes component. A simulation is a tool that applies and activates the usual course of study by placing students into a live, contentious situation where they must solve a real-world problem and juggle a host of competing interests.

ICONS algeria proposal.jpg
Proposal: Peace Plan for Algeria

Simulations actually take place on the ICONSnet - a secure online playspace providing communications infrastructure and workspace for conference participants. ICONSnet is entirely web-based, requiring no client software on individual students' machines. When logged on, students can send messages to fellow team members or to other teams. They can draft and vote on proposals, amend existing ones, and engage in real-time conferences with other groups. All the while, instructors can evaluate students through private progress reports from the teams and by monitoring message and conference logs.

Proposal List

A typical simulation involves 15-20 teams, each representing a different country. The process can be broken up into three main stages (taken from the ICONS site):

Pre-simulation Preparation (4-6 weeks):

Students work as a team to research positions using the ICONS research library and other online resources to determine a negotiating strategy for their role in the simulation.

Simulation Participation - Negotiation & Decision-Making (4-5 weeks):

Students pursue their specific goals through interactions with other teams using the ICONSnet online communication system. This may include messaging, conferences and consideration of proposals.

Post-Simulation Debriefing (~2 weeks):

Teachers lead students through written and verbal reviews of the exercise to reinforce learning objectives.

Teachers and developers can also design their own simulation using the Simulation Builder, but they still must pay for access to the ICONSnet. The site also features a Research Library stocked with useful resources that students can use to prepare for ICONS simulations: country and regional profiles; links to government sites, charters and treaties; link bibliographies for various issue areas; and a rich aggregation of news sources.

Strong as it is, however, the library would benefit from a thorough revision, and should probably be more customizable by users. For example, most of the news sources appear to have been last updated in 2003, but by now, most of them probably have RSS feeds. The page could easily be restructured to incorporate a feed reader that would allow individual students to organize syndicated content by region, issue area and other criteria.

Posted by ben vershbow at August 29, 2005 9:43 PM