UCU in Corona Times Week 8 Wrap Up

When classes went online after the March break week, University College Utrecht lecturer Tim Goudriaan immediately realized the he had to figure out an unconventional alternative for his new skills-based Conflict Simulation & Negotiation course. How to teach students practical skills in an online environment?

tim goudriaan
Tim acting as Global Operations Director

Already before, Tim’s courses had involved games and simulations, and yet the present situation made him decide to go one step further.

“I basically set up a simulation posing as an interdisciplinary think tank focused on crisis and conflict simulation”, he tells, “run by the students themselves”. This was to become a two-month long simulacra producing, playing and analysing simulations. “Other than learning practical experiences and skills, I considered that it was important to tackle current events. With the ongoing pandemic and potential rise of China, this was relatively easy. Our overall research project was therefore led by the main question: What are the consequences of (governments' responses to) the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic with regard to China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Asia and the Middle East?”

“The think tank, like many simulations, aimed to illustrate that anarchy supposedly is what states make of it. Furthermore, as Global Operations Director - both a hint and common simulation avatar understood through its acronym - I tried to supervise while the ‘Control Team’ (consisting of Regional, Research and Gaming Coordinators) and Unit Heads tried to make sense of it all.”


 “Overall, students have done a fantastic job with some pretty amazing results that they can be proud of – truly exploring the borders of what Baudrillard coined ‘hyperreality’. In any case, the think tank illustrates the valuable and unique interdisciplinary setup of University College Utrecht: we have a legal unit ((wo)manned by legal majors, of course)), a civil-military unit (manned by strategists and riot-gear fetishists), a mapping unit (mapping geeks), a timeline unit (history reps) and even a pandemic unit (run by medical and a politics students)! There are also a PR & Fundraising and a Graphic Design Department.”

conflict simulation

“Students have created, facilitated, and analysed two online matrix games on future scenarios in the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal that we have played over a two-week period. They have also written country profiles and interdisciplinary op-eds that, together with analyses and forecasting from our games and research reports by students from my Arab-Israeli Conflict course, have been put together into two huge research reports on the consequences of the pandemic with regard to the BRI in Asia and the Middle East which will be released in the coming days. Students really got into it: they have created (music) videos, podcasts, medical and legal quizzes, and arguably even the seeds of a new musical genre I’d like to dub ‘mapping wave’.”

Thinking on your feet

“The course has shown what smart students in groups can achieve, even amidst a crisis in an online environment, when they collaborate. We live in an increasingly unconventional world where people are needed who can think on their feet, handle complexity without being overwhelmed, who can communicate effectively and professionally, and engage in strategic planning through team and information management, coalition building, and diplomacy. Over the past two months, they have done exactly that.”

“I believe that the combination of unique skills and practical experience vastly improve one’s chances in what looks to become an increasingly tough and tight labour market. I wanted to give my students an ‘edge’ through this first-hand experience. Very understandably, there were feelings of frustration, as the process was difficult for many. Nevertheless, their results have certainly exceeded my expectations, and I would like to give all of them an A for their negotiation-grade which – inherently – is up for discussion.”

To continue on this path and to showcase students’ materials, just this week Tim launched The Utrecht Institute for Crisis and Conflict Simulation (UICCS). He welcomes students who like to play games to apply for an internship to participate in setting up the institute.