Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Academic Freedom Under Attack

I just watched the latest Dateline on SBS (Campus Watch) which is not up on the net as I am writing this post. Hope by the time you read this, the show is available.

I am not a political scientist and I have no political position on any Middle East issues. However, I do understand very well how Dr. Andrew Vincent conducts his Middle East role play simulations. [My role play simulation platform is an advanced implementation of Andrew's pedagogical design and see some of my work (and others) on role play simulation here.]

Andrew has been running his Middle East Role play simulation in the last two decades as early as when email was the *only* thing on the Internet. See this paper and video.

The video linked in the last paragraph is a description by Andrew himself how his simulations were run. I cannot do better than that. So please watch the 9 minutes video now.

A few things I would like to add to Andrew's own description are these:

1. His simulations were run 3 weeks ahead of time. In other words, any event that happens today in real world is history in the simulated world. This forces the players to really study what is happening and cannot act in total ignorance and imagination.

2. The players are required to do extensive research about the role they are playing before the scenario is released in the form of "role profile". The independent research done by the students to really understand the role would ensure that there is no possibility of Andrew forcing biased view onto his students.

3. As part of the role profile, players are required to identify the public agenda and private agenda of the roles they are going to play. From point 1 above, it is to the interest of the players to adhere to current events, culture and history in order to come up with the most likely agenda to advance. It should also note that private agenda are not visible to other roles (only to "controller" in order for the controller to judge whether the students are acting in character or out of character).

4. Andrew's resource list include both western and middle east media. Political science students should know that media is a propaganda machine and they are encouraged to use the media (within the simulation) to advance the role's agenda. In a direct way, Andrew is teaching the students to critically examine all media. Students are free to research on the web and library to understand the role they are playing.

5. Killing is a reality in politics. However, in Andrew's simulation, one of the game rule is that "thou shall not kill" or equivalent. If killing or serious harm must be done, it can only be done with controller's approval which typically requires extensive support why such a violent act is likely, is in character of the role they are playing and help to advance the agenda of the role. I have seen some of such requests, which were several pages long, well documented evidence and culture practices, prepared by the players in order to get controller's approval. To the students, violent act IS a last resort because it is just too difficult to get an approval to do this within the simulation.

6. Many of Andrew's simulation were run in parallel to courses in other universities, many not in Australia.

Years after years, students know that Dr Vincent course is a difficult course to take. His course is demanding and requires more work than any equivalent course. However, Dr. Vincent's Middle East course usually has the highest number of students within his political science department. Within the three weeks of role play simulation, thousands of simMails were exchanged (a typical simulations have around 3000 simMails) and an almost equal amount of posts in different forums within the simulation. These are on top of the "role profile" and "role summary" and only worth 40% of the total grade of the course.

Using role play simulation to teach politics is now being adapted all around the world.

If anyone would like to accuse Andrew of delivering a biased course, listen to SBS interview and identify the list of guest speakers he has invited to deliver lecturers to his students. If there is any chance of introducing bias into the simulation, it may be done via the scenario which Andrew spent a lot of time in crafting. Andrew never admitted this, but I knew that many of simulations run using his model had predicted the real world events very accurately.

After all these years, I am very sorry to hear that Andrew's role play simulations are stopped. People who tried to stop Andrew's simulation did so for their own political agenda. It is NOT because these simulations promote biased viewpoint, insigate violent nor pedagogically ineffective. Parliment member(s) attacking Andrew in the Parliment is/are protected from being sued for anything they say in Parliment. Andrew does not have that privilege.

It is an attack on academic freedom and inhibit our students to learn the *real* facts.

[added on 9th Nov, 2006 at 9:45am] The transcript of Campus Conflict and the interview with Vincent/Danby are available now.

[added 10th Nov, 2006 at 8:30am] The SBS video is up now.

1 comment:

Albert Ip said...

The SBS video has gone now.