The fundamental goal of my teaching is to provide my students with the tools to analyse regional security issues from diverse Asia-Pacific perspectives, and to ‘open up’ the state and examine the multiple actors that influence security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. Many of my students are or will become Australian government officials, or are currently serving in other government departments in the Asia-Pacific region. My challenge is to find ways to get my students to step outside their own Singaporean, Australian, Chinese or other home-country perspective and to analyse regional security issues from the perspectives of other states or sub-state actors. For my students, their time at ANU provides a unique window of opportunity to learn about how other states behave and why.
To achieve this goal I use a role-playing crisis simulation approach to teaching and learning. In my course on China’s Defence and Strategic Challenges, students are assigned to play of one ten different actors within Chinese state and society (e.g. the People’s Liberation Army Navy or the China National Petroleum Corporation). Over the course of the semester they research their actors and their roles in the wider policy-making system and then participate in a day-long crisis simulation.
As one of my students has explained, the role-playing process not only allows students to become active learners, but also to develop real subject matter expertise and thus to become teachers themselves:
“I really valued [the fact] that students were able to teach one another a great deal about the motivations, history, character and weaknesses of different actors in the Chinese national security community. This was very empowering for students, as we became subject matter experts able to share our knowledge in an interactive way, rather than just class discussions (which some people do not feel comfortable doing).” Student comment
I was also motivated to develop the crisis simulation curriculum as a way to bridge the unhelpful divide between Strategic Studies and Chinese Studies in research and policy-making. A great deal of the existing commentary on China within the Strategic Studies and defence and foreign policy communities tends to treat China either as a ‘black box’ whose strategic thinking and behaviour is unknowable, or worse, as a unitary actor that is unaffected by the complexities of domestic politics, history, culture and social change. The role-playing crisis simulation therefore provided a unique way for students to open up the ‘black box’ of the Chinese state and to better understand the multiple actors and complex processes shaping Chinese security policy and strategic thinking.
“To be honest, I only had a limited understanding of China as a monolithic country where decisions were made without consultation with other actors. I now see that the policy making in China is highly dynamic and multifaceted.” Student comment
Dr Amy King is a senior lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre within the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs. Since joining ANU in 2013, Amy has been responsible for convening courses on the International Security of the Asia-Pacific region and China’s Defence and Strategic Challenges. She also teaches regular guest lectures and seminars on research methods, as well as on Chinese foreign and security policy, China-Japan relations, and Australia’s security policy in the Asia-Pacific region. Building on her prior experience teaching Oxford-style tutorials, Amy is passionate about finding ways to make her students active learners. To this end, she has designed her undergraduate and Masters courses so that students are continuously engaged in primary research, student-led presentations, role-playing simulations and reflective writing.