George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Experiential Learning Activities (ELAs)

The Experiential Learning Activities (ELAs) listed below were developed as part of the Undergraduate Experiential Learning Project (UELP), a U.S. Department of Education, Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE)-funded initiative that enhances Conflict Analysis and Resolution (CAR) pedagogy to improve undergraduate learning. Each ELA represents the collective effort of CAR faculty and students at the Carter School at George Mason University.

The CAR field is uniquely positioned to deliver educational experiences that help students make the crucial link between abstract theories and their practical application through learning activities such as: conflict mapping, intervention design, role plays, and simulations. Each ELA advances specific learning outcomes, including critical thinking, problem-solving, and perspective taking. The ELAs are designed to augment existing course curricula or may be used as stand alone activities. The project team is testing each ELA in undergraduate courses. If you are interested in using one of these activities please contact Dr. Susan Hirsch at

Experiential Learning Activities (ELAs) for Introductory Courses

Community at Odds in Voinjama, Liberia (Part 1): Introduction to Conflict Mapping

Students are placed into four groups and asked to map a real conflict that erupted in the town of Voinjama, Liberia, a number of years after the end of the civil war. Each group is given slightly different information about the conflict. As the maps emerge and are presented the students realize how access to information shapes the understanding of conflict dynamics. The debrief engages students in conversation about the complexity of conflict, the valuation of data sources, and the impact of perspectives.

Download the ELA Materials: Community at Odds in Voinjama, Liberia (Part 1): Introduction to Conflict Mapping

Community at Odds in Voinjama, Liberia (Part 2): Introduction to Conflict Intervention

This ELA explores the challenge of designing an intervention following a conflict. It may be run independently or as an extension of the conflict mapping exercise described above. Students are placed in groups representing one of four organizations and are asked to design an intervention that addresses tensions in Voinjama following the clash.The groups draft proposed interventions and present them to the class. The debrief explores issues associated with intervention design and the need to coordinate with other organizations in the community. 

Download the ELA Materials: Community at Odds in Voinjama, Liberia (Part 2): Introduction to Conflict Intervention

Mediated Perceptions: An Introduction to Frame Analysis

This ELA is designed to help students analyze photographs and other images as texts by applying frame analysis. Frame analysis is a critical interpretive approach that allows students to go beyond what is presented in a "text" to appreciate how the context surrounding a text shapes its meaning. Students learn the importance of putting a text into context as part of the process of interpreting its meaning. This ELA also encourages students to take a critical perspective on the narratives that are publicized through media and helps them to understand how media narratives and representations are ways of framing individuals' perceptions.

Download the ELA Materials: Mediated Perceptions: An Introduction to Frame Analysis

Experiential Learning Activities (ELAs) for Intermediate Courses

Analyzing Conflict through Film: Applying Analytic Models

Through lecture or readings, students are introduced to several analytic models typically used to understand conflict. Next, the instructor screens a film (fiction or documentary) that focuses on a conflict. Working in small groups the students analyze the conflict portrayed in the film using one of the analytic models, and each group shares its analysis with the class. The debrief emphasizes how the choice of an analytic tool can shape one’s understanding of a conflict. A list of recommended films is provided.

Download the ELA Materials: Analyzing Conflict through Film: Applying Analytic Models

Self and Other in the Social World: Exploring Identity Through Interviews

This exercise begins with the instructor presenting theories of identity for discussion in class. Students then prepare to conduct original research on identity by learning and practicing interview techniques. Each student interviews three close friends or family members and analyzes the interview by using theories of identity learned in class and by reflecting on how their own identity shaped the interview process. Available Fall 2016.

Download the ELA Materials: Self and Other in the Social World: Exploring Identity Through Interviews

Can We Drink the Water?: Simulating Conflict Dynamics in an Appalachian Mining Community

This role play focuses on a conflict that emerges when contaminated water is discovered at an elementary school near a mine. Students take on the roles of people involved in the conflict, such as the school principal, a mine company official, and an environmental activist. Roles are unscripted, and through films, readings, and their own research, students prepare to participate in meetings to resolve the conflict. After the role play the debrief can focus on multiple learning goals, including experience with facilitation or deeper understanding of community dynamics.

Download the ELA Materials: Can We Drink the Water?: Simulating Conflict Dynamics in an Appalachian Mining Community

Experiential Learning Activities (ELAs) for Advanced Courses

The Last Resort: Envisioning Change in an Appalachian Mining Town

This simulation is set in a mining town where residents are grappling with choices about their economic future in a highly conflictual atmosphere: should mining remain the central industry? Would tourism be a better option? Students conduct research on the conflict issues and the perspectives of specific community members, such as a tourism developer, a mining employee, a local government official, or an environmental activist. Each student adopts a role and engages in unscripted “visioning sessions” to discuss the town’s future. Multiple debriefs focus on learning goals that include leadership and problem-solving skills and deeper understanding of the issues at stake in the conflict.

Download the ELA Materials: The Last Resort: Envisioning Change in an Appalachian Mining Town

Adding Fuel to the Fire: A Resource-based International Negotiation Role Play

This United Nations Summit role play aims at preventing interstate conflict over vast undersea gas and oil fields recently discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean. Students take on prominent roles such as UN mediators and representatives of each conflict party, as well as potential additional roles for sub-state political actors, energy companies, environmental advocates, and influential global and regional parties. Taking on the roles of the relevant parties students negotiate this dispute within the framework of the Law of the Sea, an international treaty not yet ratified by key partners. The exercise enhances students' understanding of the complex dynamics of conflict and negotiation at interstate, regional, and international levels, and the impact of identity and interests on conflict escalation and resolution.

Download the ELA Materials: Adding Fuel to the Fire: A Resource-based International Negotiation Role Play

Engaging Students through Focus Group Methodology

Through this exercise students use focus group methodology to conduct research on a topic of their choice, such as social media and conflict or fostering tolerance on campus. Students learn focus group methodology through readings, class discussion, a mock focus group, and practicing on one another. Working in small groups they design and run a focus group of fellow students. The results are interpreted and presented. In addition to introducing a key research and conflict resolution methodology, this exercise hones students’ skills in inquiry, teamwork, facilitation, data analysis, and oral presentation. Benefits also accrue to the students who serve as focus group participants.

Download the ELA Materials: Engaging Students through Focus Group Methodology

From Theory to Practice: Intervening in Interpersonal Conflict

In this activity, students will practice intervening in interpersonal conflicts. The activity was designed to engage students in the challenges involved in applying conflict resolution theory and intervention tactics to conflicts that are relevant to their daily lives. The aim is to help students develop intentionality as they move from conflict analysis to conflict resolution and as they learn to connect theory to conflict resolution practice. The course professor will determine which frameworks, theories, and tactics to teach throughout the course, and students will be asked to test these out in the exercise.

Download the ELA Materials: From Theory to Practice: Intervening in Interpersonal Conflict