case study

Worth It: Sim Creates Emotional Connections to Course Material​​


When Dr. Cigdem Sirin’s fully online asynchronous course moved from a 7 to a 16-week format, she felt the need to add something to her curriculum to create engagement and excitement. She decided to give Statecraft a try, but had some concerns. Would it work?

Fortunately, she was pleased with the results! She saw increased engagement and peer connection in the virtual world. The simulation created a way for students to apply what they were learning and make connections to course material. The dramatic situations created emotional responses that foster empathy for real-world problems countries experience. She’s confident the high engagement and emotional connection will also equate to long-term knowledge retention. Plus, Statecraft support took care of all of her technical concerns. 

At the conclusion of the sim, she is glad she gave Statecraft a chance. The benefits for she and her students outweighed the costs.


Fall 2020, November 18th


Dr. Cigdem Sirin is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Director for the Center for Faculty Leadership and Development at the University of Texas at El Paso. She’s been teaching for 12 years. This was her first semester using the Statecraft International Relations (IR) Simulation. 


Dr. Cigdem Sirin Photo

At the end I was very pleased, I liked it! The way students wrote their weekly memos I could see that they enjoyed the simulation and they did engage with their peers.

The risk paid off. I am happy that I took a chance with the simulation because it really gave me that missing engagement piece in a remote environment.



I had two main motivators:

First, I felt the need to find creative, innovative ways to engage the students and create interaction. I’m teaching this IR course fully online and fully asynchronous. In a pandemic we all feel very isolated, we lack the human contact that would happen in a face-to-face class. In a simulation like this they’re part of a team. They not only have to interact with their team members but also engage in negotiations and discussions with other teams. It’s the perfect platform to give them peer-to-peer interaction.

Second, my class had a shift from a 7-week compact format to a 16-week full-term format. I thought it would feel monotone if I dragged the same 7-week content out for 16 weeks. I wanted something to fill that time gap.

I wanted Statecraft to be an extra bonus for students that would augment my existing material and introduce excitement. 


The Statecraft simulation worked very well!

I was dreading it, to be honest. While I was finalizing my syllabus before the semester began, I thought: “Do I really want to do this simulation for the first time? What if it doesn’t work? What if it’s not good? What if we don’t have enough support?”

I took a risk! Every time you try something new in your course you’re taking a risk, especially if the course is doing well already.

One of my concerns was that there would be technical glitches and I would end up playing the role of tech person. But that didn’t happen. Statecraft support was great. Joe is amazing. He even came to the live information session that I created.

At the end I was very pleased, I liked it! Every week I asked students to provide simulation memos, like little journals. The way that they wrote those memos I could see that they really enjoyed the simulation and they did engage with their peers.

The risk paid off. I am happy that I took a chance with the simulation because it really gave me that missing engagement piece in a remote environment.


This is a game, it’s a lot more fun than interacting through discussion posts! 

Of course there is an incentive for them to be invested since a portion of their grade will depend on their actions in the simulation. But I told them that our first and foremost priority is to have fun; to use this simulation as a fun opportunity to learn.

I set the ground rules at the beginning: “Let’s have fun; keep it cool.”

Setting this tone kept them engaged and it did keep it fun.


I asked questions for the simulation memos like: “How is your country doing right now? What strategies did you apply? Are there connections to the course material?” I really liked reading student responses when they said things like: 

“Oh, look! This is the security dilemma that we just read about. Oh, look! This is prisoner’s dilemma. Oh, look! This is hegemony; this is bandwagoning; this is power balancing.“ 

I loved hearing these words because these things do happen in the real realm of international relations and they are making those connections.


A top benefit is the application of course material. Students were able to draw connections and then get excited as they saw themselves manifest the course concepts in a simulated world. 

They kept saying, “I like how we are applying what we learn.” 

They are not just reading about how to ride a bike, they are actually “riding a bike” in a sense. I like that application component of the simulation. 


Emotions are real. Even if it’s a simulation, emotions are real. The more students get into the simulation, the higher the emotions.

Just this week in one of my countries the president got impeached. Yes, she got removed from office and she said “This was because of my power-hungry colleagues.”

I talked to the students involved and they said “Don’t worry, professor, it’s part of our master plan.” They were planning an unexpected surprise attack and it was part of their scenario. Imagine: what if it was a real life impeachment? They didn’t think the president of their country was doing a good job and so they successfully removed the president!

These dramatic situations can happen. Some students may take it way seriously, and it may be on the verge of a real-life tension. So you have to check in on your students, monitor the situation and act as mitigator sometimes to make sure that everybody still understands this is a game and there shouldn’t be personal attacks.


Part of the simulation experience is replicating what actually happens in real life international relations. In the memos one student said “Well they’re ganging up on us and they’re sharing technologies, and it’s not really fair.” You know what? International relations is not fair.

Think about G7, or the European Union. I gave the example of Turkey, my country of origin. Turkey has wanted to be part of the European Union for a long time. It still has its bid for member status but I don’t see a wedding in their near future. Of course they want to be part of the European Union; it’s an organization where countries share technologies and have free movement of people. That’s just one example of how some other countries may think “It’s not fair! They have this nice quality of life, this nice coalition, this nice set-up and I’m losing from it.” G7: again, it’s the same situation where a bunch of developed nations are taking a much bigger share of the world resources. The other countries may be working hard but they cannot compete, so look what happens.

The students said, “We were going to use our resources to purchase big projects but now that we lost to this gang of nations, we are just going to use it for military.” That’s exactly what happens, right? Radicalization of some countries in the world: they see that there’s no channel for them to do well, so what do they do? They go to black markets, they go rogue.


The simulation exposed why some nations are forced to be more militaristic and stay less developed. Now the students better understand that path. 

Their emotions get activated: they’re mad at the other students doing these things… but they’re replicating exactly what happens in the real realm of international relations.

This personal experience with frustrations and challenges creates empathy. That is my research area, so I’m really big on gamification. Serious educational games like this are great tools to create empathy.


I think the simulation will facilitate knowledge retention in the long run. 

For example, now they clearly see the benefits of cooperation. They’ve personally experienced that if it’s an all-conflict, all-out war, Hobbesian type of world, that would be a horrible state of chaos. Now they understand the concept of anarchy with the absence of a central government enforcing decisions in the international realm. It makes them appreciate the value of cooperation and international institutionalism, plus what a big challenge it is for countries.

Many of them have told me, “Now we understand how hard it is to achieve cooperation in foreign policy and international relations.” 

ONLINE challenges & benefits

This class is fully asynchronous so it was hard for my students to find a common time to meet on a regular basis. I was impressed, though, the students did find a way to make it work. 

Next time I’m teaching this course, ideally I could have it be a hybrid synchronous/asynchronous online format with set meeting times. Having set time reserved that students could use for Statecraft activities would make life easier. 

Despite this challenge, the simulation does offer the benefit of having the interaction that you usually lack in a fully online environment. 


The collective action problem is part of the risk of team-based learning. The benefits are very high, but there’s always the risk that some will try to exploit the situation and be a free rider. 

Peer evaluations are important to monitor the situation; that would be a piece of advice I can offer to other instructors. By supplementing the individual memos with the peer evaluations, you send the message that this is not a team project where everybody gets the same grade; everyone will be graded individually on their participation.

Within the simulation there are protections embedded, plus if you instill these key monitoring mechanisms you can overcome that hurdle.

You also have to set ground rules from the very beginning because there will be a lot of interaction; including interaction that you cannot trace. They will be having both public and private meetings. Some things will be posted as manifestos or public exchanges, but many interactions happen behind the scenes. You just want to monitor the situation. Log in on a regular basis and engage with the students. 

favorite features

I’m happy that I took that risk, it’s a good simulation!


Experience Statecraft for Yourself

These awesome results are available for your class too! Book your demo today to get a personalized tour and have all your questions answered. Or read on for more information about the U.S. Government Simulation or U.S. Government Lite Simulation products.