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Model UN Club: A Template for Future Education (Part II)

Note: This article is part 2 of a two-part series on the Model UN and the Model UN Club.

The COVID era has compelled experimentation in video conferencing that will likely continue in the post-COVID world, allowing many more students to further their education. In addition, the use of video conferencing technology and virtual Model United Nations conferences opens the technology to a large segment of students across the world who were previously unable to engage in Model United Nations and other experiential learning experiences, due to the travel and time costs. In the future, virtual conferencing will allow many non-traditional students and those from working-class backgrounds to attend physical conferences.

Additionally, video conferencing permits students to participate from their home country, adding valuable and diverse insights to conferences and potentially creating truly global events open to all.

For example, our working adult students who might not have been able to attend a physical event due to family, work, and school responsibilities, participated in several virtual conferences where they competed against students from across the United States and the world. In May, our students plan to participate in another virtual Model United Nations simulation hosted by Politikum, an organization based in Ecuador. Our students are able to attend this virtual conference while balancing family, work, school and other responsibilities.

While physical conferences will likely remain the dominant form of Model United Nations simulations, virtual conferences and participation via video conferencing are likely to remain a valuable part of the Model United Nations landscape, breaking down the exclusionary barriers imposed by travel costs even when physical conferences return in the fall of 2021. Video conferencing and virtual conferences have provided numerous underserved communities with much-needed access to a valuable learning experience.

Social Clubs Like Model UNs Attend to Students’ Social and Emotional Needs

Students’ mental and social health have become a critically important issue during the COVID pandemic. Students have struggled to deal with a landscape that altered the lives of millions, economically and socially, as the pandemic sickened millions, resulting in over 500,000 deaths in the United States alone. Schools across the country struggled to maintain the student social life in the face of government-mandated closures.  

Student activities like the Model United Nations Club are far from a panacea for all ills. However, the consistency of the fixed monthly meetings even during the COVID era provided online students with an opportunity to touch base with their peers. These meetings also provided much-needed stress relief, socializing, and a distraction from the pressures and realities of the pandemic.

Social clubs like the Model United Nations Club serve as one of many tools in an educational institution’s toolbox to attend to the social and emotional needs of its students. Additionally, participation can teach students the importance of flexibility, adaptability and persistence.

Flexibility and adaptability are related skills. To be flexible requires rejecting rigidity in thinking and action. In contrast, adaptability requires the ability to change to the needs of an environment in order in order to survive.

Our students who are involved in Model United Nations activities embrace both of these skills. At these conferences, successful delegates must be flexible and adaptable as they confront unforeseeable obstacles, arguments, and questions posed by fellow delegates.

Model United Nations participants also learn persistence as they research, write, and prepare for the conference over an extended period of time. Due to the voluntary nature of the Model United Nations Club, there is no fear of a failing grade to motivate students.

Instead, they are motivated by a collection of ungraded incentives, learning valuable persistence skills not linked to external motivations. Furthermore, the hard work of committees at the conference and the give and take of resolution writing teach students how persistence can pay dividends. 

In the future, students are likely to confront a world where automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and other still-unknown technology will render millions of current jobs obsolete. Future workers will likely have to reinvent themselves numerous times during their work careers to survive in this changing labor landscape. In this future world skills like flexibility, adaptability, and persistence learned by preparing for and participating in a Model United Nations conference will become even more valuable.

Model UN Club Experience Hints at an Exciting Hybrid Educational Landscape

At first glance, our Model UN Club might seem like an oddity in the educational landscape, a throwback to an earlier time when online students formed the club to compete in in-person conferences. But the club’s creative use of technology, its embrace of diversity and inclusivity, and its emphasis on the development of soft skills like persistence, flexibility, and adaptability became a template for other educational institutions looking to enhance their students’ experiences in the post-COVID era.

Moreover, the club’s use of various forms of technology provides a roadmap for other schools to forge deeper connections between their students and the outside world. The interdisciplinary and project-based nature of Model United Nations simulations represent the cutting edge of educational experimentation in physical and online classrooms.

Finally, and most excitingly, the use of video conferencing technology opens the Model United Nations experience to a wider audience by breaking down previous exclusionary barriers, hinting at a hybrid and global educational landscape that benefits underserved communities across the world.

James Barney is a Professor of Legal Studies in the School of Security and Global Studies. In addition to possessing a J.D., James possesses several master’s degrees, including one in U.S. foreign policy. He is currently completing his Ph.D. in History. James serves as one of the faculty advisors of the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity as well as the Model United Nations Club and is the pre-law advisor.

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