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ICONS simulations help professors move instruction online quickly

Image of the CoronavirusThe novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced schools everywhere to quickly move instruction online, and one University of Maryland team is helping instructors overcome this challenge by providing 24 completely online simulations that engage students in playing the roles of stakeholders in a range of complex political and societal issues. Created and administered by ICONS, which gets its moniker from its portfolio of International COmmunication and Negotiation Simulations, the simulations require students to think strategically, negotiate collaboratively and make decisions about world issues including international trade negotiations, global warming, food security, human trafficking and more.

Special Offer for UMD Instructors

To further support the UMD community during the pandemic, ICONS is making its whole suite of online simulations free for UMD classes for the rest of the Spring 2020 semester. Contact icons@umd.edu to learn more.

ICONS simulations are based on real-world issues dealing with negotiations (i.e., globalization and Nigerian oil, whaling rights, solid waste management) and crises (i.e., ethnic conflict in Kashmir, severe natural disasters, North Korea’s nuclear program). The simulations are run online through the ICONSnet platform, which allows students to participate at any time, from different locations, and can be easily adapted to meet the needs of a variety of courses and schedules.

“By taking on roles in a simulation activity and working to solve a problem together, students develop a new awareness of the many perspectives and factors involved in trying to address complex issues, negotiate agreements and manage crises,” said Audrey Tetteh, ICONS Education Program Director. “The benefit of being able to do this using an online platform, with all of your students in different locations, has always been great for instructors who regularly engage in distance learning, but it becomes really evident when we are faced with extraordinary circumstances like the COVID-19 crisis."

While the catalog of ready-to-use simulations cover topics in political science, business, communications and environmental science, instructors from any discipline may find them applicable. ICONS can also work with instructors to develop a customized simulation.  

"The ICONS simulation provides my students a deeper appreciation and insight into the dynamic and complicated structures surrounding negotiations,” said Charles Harry, UMD Associate Research Professor in international cybersecurity. “Often classroom instruction leaves students with an impression that international agreement, cooperation, or confrontation can be distilled into a neat formula. ICONS dispels them of that notion."

Virginia Haufler, UMD Associate Professor of Government and Politics, has used ICONS simulations in her courses.

"Through ICONS simulations, students have to take abstract concepts and apply them to the real world," she said. "The experience fosters critical thinking skills, effective communication, and the application of scholarship to the real world."

In addition to working within academia, ICONS has worked with the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Fortune 500 companies and more.

Founded in 1982 by University of Maryland professors Jonathan Wilkenfeld and Richard Brecht as a project to connect classes to learn about international relations through joint simulations, ICONS has grown through the years to reach thousands of simulation participants and clients throughout the United States and the world. In 2016, it joined the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) after nearly a decade of increasingly close collaboration.

Instructors can find more information and register on the ICONS website, or can send questions to Audrey Tetteh at icons@umd.edu.

GIF describing ICONS simulations