Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Renegotiating Kyoto: A Computer-Aided Role Play

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Renegotiating Kyoto: A Computer-Aided Role Play

Article excerpt


The outline of a computer-aided role playing exercise is discussed. The exercise is developed around an international climate change treaty, and serves as the climax in a course on environmental science and policy. Benefits of the exercise include an improved understanding of the scale and implementability of environmental interventions, enhanced understanding of conflicting perspectives, and a willingness to test novel ideas in search of win-win scenarios. The methodology discussed is widely applicable.

I. Introduction

In an effort to enhance the integrative experiences for students in Drake's Environmental Science and Policy Program, over the past four years I have taught a course on Global Climate Change (GCC). The course is directed at upper-level majors and honors students, although it often attracts a significant fraction of introductory-level students in unrelated disciplines, leading to a wide range of interests and abilities.

The course is designed as a semester-long case study on how to approach an environmental question, organized around the guiding principle that nearly all such issues involve complex interactions between science and policy. Hence, we must first delve into the science to get a firm understanding of the causes of the problem, the possible effects, the parameters over which humans have control, uncertainties, and risks of intervention or non-intervention. However, options are often limited by economic concerns and political realities, which must be understood both quantitatively and in terms of competing interest groups and stakeholder perspectives. This range of topics can leave students feeling overwhelmed and with little ability to place various aspects of the issue into perspective relative to the overall system of study.

I require a final paper where students are asked to demonstrate how much (if any) greenhouse gas (GHG) production needs to be curtailed in order to avoid serious damage (either in a cost-benefit or Precautionary Principle framework), and then to propose a politically and economically implementable strategy that will result in the necessary reductions. The first year that I taught this course I found that strategies were generally naive, either focusing on a relatively small-scale solution that would not have the necessary impact, or proposing sweeping societal changes without much understanding of how these might be implemented.

This result demonstrated to me that students needed an integrative experience where they would be able to gain an understanding of the scale of the task, test the effects of their ideas, appreciate the likely costs of various implementation strategies, and interact with a diverse range of actors under conflicting motivational constraints, in order to contextualize their understanding within a conceptual framework and test their preconceptions (see NRC, 1999, chapter 2). There is a significant literature on the benefits of active and problem-based learning, including the promotion of occupation preparedness, information retention, higher-order learning, and cognitive complexity (Knowlton, 2003, Magolda and King, 2004). In their report "Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College", the American Association of Colleges and Universities (2002) advocates for the inclusion of problem-based learning and integrative exercises within the curriculum as methods for the creation of intentional, life-long learners.

With this in mind, I developed a role-playing exercise based upon the negotiation of an international treaty to limit GHGs. My intent was to enhance students' understanding of scale, political and economic parameters, and the positions of different actors, as well as to encourage them to develop novel mitigation strategies based on their understanding of the issues presented. I chose to create a game with clear but complex (and sometimes conflicting) victory conditions established at the outset of the exercise, yet where students did not feel limited by artificial constraints that the demands of playability often impose. …

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