When I was a delegate, I was concerned about a conference’s laptop policy because the delegates with laptops would have a competitive advantage and we’d have to strategize on how to counter them. When I became a conference organizer, I was concerned about my own conference’s laptop policy because we wanted to make sure that access to technology was equal, and we’d usually ban laptops in committees because it gave wealthier delegates an unfair advantage. Now that Ryan and I increasingly teach in classrooms, speak with educators inside and outside of Model UN, and reflect on our experiences in the working world, we realize that the arguments behind these laptop policies miss a point.
Specifically, all these laptop policies are framed from a viewpoint that Model UN is a competition — it’s an unfair advantage for one delegate to have a laptop because it increases his or her chance to win awards. The opposite point of view — that Model UN is an educational experience — would argue that if laptops are used properly in the committee room, then everyone wins because the information pulled from laptops would be beneficial for all delegates to know. Everyone would be able to produce better solutions and weed out bad ones if they are able to go online to evaluate and research into new ideas that are brought up throughout debate. Furthermore, technology allows for deeper collaboration among delegates and can make a conference more green by eliminating the paper used for resolutions and notes.
Unfortunately, the learning experience in Model UN is currently sub-optimal because conferences have chosen to ban laptops and technology in the committee room as a competitive equalizer. But if Model UN is supposed to prepare our students to be future leaders — leaders in all professions that will certainly require the use of computers and smartphones on a daily basis — then conferences must reconsider their policies to not only allow but encourage delegates to start using laptops and other technological tools now in their Model UN simulations.
After reflecting on my own experience working in marketing, operations, and sales at AT&T and the leadership training conferences I attended in the working world, here are four blue-sky suggestions for conference organizers to consider as they plan to what extent technology can help revolutionize the conference experience:
1. Allow laptops in committees. Laptops open up a lot of advantages besides saving paper and time by having the resolutions typed by the delegates. Assuming a conference provides WiFi, this allows delegates to do research and fact-based analyses throughout the committee as new ideas come up so they can strengthen them or challenge them. The overall learning process, quality of debate, and specifics in resolutions would be much better if delegates were able to use laptops to supplement their existing preparation.
2. Tweet instead of passing notes. Notes are messy, use up lots of paper, are slow to reach their intended recipient, and note passers look like distraction in committee. The revolutionary and educational experience would be to have a Twitter feed displayed on a projected screen in committee and perhaps accompanied with the committee’s specific hashtag. Many real conferences, particularly technology or social media conferences, already do this. Delegates can provide feedback on a speech or communicate with certain delegates via Twitter and it’d be instantly and publicly displayed. Social media is a powerful tool when participants can communicate with each other. Some conferences use Twitter now for crisis updates, but again the real strength behind Twitter is conversation instead of just broadcasting.
3. Collaborate using Google Documents. Collaboration drives innovation and efficiency since many people are empowered to contribute to a solution. Currently, having one delegate hoard a resolution makes collaboration sub-optimal and makes information flow bottlenecked at one person. The better educational experience would be to open collaboration up to many delegates — everyone can contribute their ideas into a shared resolution on Google Documents. The sharing feature also allows delegates to work on and view the latest updates on the resolution at all times. Resolutions no longer need to be printed if everyone can pull it from their own laptops or see it on the projector; if it needs to be printed, then sharing it with conference services will make for a much quicker turnaround time.
If this is a college conference, we can even extend the collaboration to PowerPoint or other applications that would be used in the real life committees that are being simulated. Make the Model UN experience teach students more than just writing resolutions.
4. Spark brainstorming via a blog or social network. If the goal is to have a deep understanding of the topic and to come up with the best solutions, then committee chairs should help warm-up the debate and spark the brainstorming by sharing links to articles or starting discussions on a blog, Facebook group, or even a Google Hangout. The learning process through continual updates and the pre-committee networking amongst the delegates will make for higher quality debate and stronger friendships.
Although having delegates use technology in committees would be ideal for an educational experience, there are also issues that make conferences hesitate in implementing it. The issues that conferences would need to address include:
Accessibility: How can conferences ensure that all delegates can access laptops and other technological tools before and during the conference? Despite the price of laptops having dropped significantly since when I started doing MUN (an iPad costs half of what a laptop used to cost, and netbooks are relatively cheap now), not all delegates can afford laptops. Although the sharing of laptops would improve the educational experience, it is still sub-optimal because students aren’t learning to use or manage the tools themselves. Is there some way for conferences to invest in a joint laptop fund or unite together in a pitch to a computer giant to donate to the activity?
Appropriate use: How can conferences ensure that technology is not abused through pre-written resolutions, working non-collaboratively overnight, or used for non-conference-related purposes while in committee? These issues already exist without laptops — how can we ensure that technology doesn’t exacerbate them?
Awarding for collaboration: How can conferences fairly award a delegate now that technology is introduced in committees? Does a conference’s awards policy favor delegates with the best ideas and therefore drive action to maintaining ownership of a resolution and competitive advantages in technology use? Can a conference’s policy be amended or clarified to reward collaboration — helping everyone in your bloc share technology resources and come up with the best ideas in order to produce the best resolution across all committees rather than the best one relative to your own committee?
At some point, I hope that the use of technology will help revolutionize the Model UN experience and make it an even better teaching tool than it currently already is. For now, I hope MUN conference organizers start by looking at how other conferences are conducted in the working world or brainstorm with teachers on the educational value of technology and think about how they can innovate given current constraints and policies.
What do you think about laptops and technology being used in committees? What else can Model UN do to better prepare its participants for the real world? Let us know in the comments below!