Friday, April 22, 2005

Creative Problem-Solving: Hazardous Shipping Lanes in the Malaccan Straits

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Here is a project for a Creative Problem-Solving Class. Imagine being issued a handheld computer, an mp3 player, a CD-ROM, and then being told that you will have to develop a plan to deal with the problem of piracy and attacks on ships in the Straits of Malacca. You will work with a team of 10 classmates who will be constantly traveling, and who will have only intermittent access to the Internet. You will be expected to develop components of a plan that you can implement together when you meet again, either face to face, or through synchronous Internet communication.

Mission (Outcome) Centered E-Learning Experience

You must, with your teammates, devise a plan to deal with piracy in the Straits of Malacca. You have certain equipment and funds available at your disposal. You have a certain amount of political clout, and you have some indirect methods that you can use.

While it is still possible to work as a team even while separated, the mission must be further refined, and broken into steps that can be implemented.

After refining the mission, and breaking it down into action steps, the areas of action should be mapped out. This must be done after understanding the nature of the problem.

Partial expanded definition of the problem:

*Cargo ships are attacked when they reach the “pinch point” through the Straits of Malacca.

*Ships are commandeered and their cargo sold on the black market.

*Crew are often killed, but sometimes kidnapped.

*The crews that do the pirating are not the same people as the individuals who fund the activities.

*Economic pressures, political double-dealing, poverty, and corruption make piracy appealing.

*Sovereignty issues come into play when policing and monitoring activities are proposed. Who would monitor traffic and police it? How is integrity assured?

*Logistics are challenging. GPS monitoring, identification of ships, cargo, monitoring of cargo, safety issues, are complicating factors.

*Trafficking and poor reporting of cargo also complicate the issue. Possible problem areas: human smuggling, illegal substances, contraband, falsified merchandise (pharmaceuticals, licensed brand “knock offs,” counterfeit equipment and spare parts, etc.).

Team roles and responsibilities:

Students must distribute roles and assume responsibility for developing their piece of the plan in anticipation of when they get together.

The roles can be those of advisors.

*Physical Security advisor.

*Geopolitical Affairs advisor

*Natural Resources advisor

*Trade and Trafficking advisor

*Maritime navigation advisor

Each must come up with a plan, which can follow a very prescribed approach. The responses can be shaped around a template or guiding questions.

Because not everyone will have the same sort of access to information, each person should collect information for distribution in the following forms:

*Text files (Word)

*mp3 Audio files for uploading and downloading to portable players

*Graphics -- maps, interactive mileage calculators, navigation maps, charts with statistics, navigation charts and calculators, examples of contraband and counterfeits, movies

Distributed Learning Space (Network-Centric)

By realizing that one is separated by time zones, access, and space from one’s teammates, the team must come up with ways to communicate. Step 1 involves finding out the best way for everyone to communicate. It may be that everyone is on the same sort of network and can communicate via handheld (BlackBerry, Treo, T-Mobile Sidekick), either through text messages, voice, or instant message. It may be that some of the team members will be out of range, or, due to security reasons, will not have an interactive system.

In that case, there must be a way for them to role-play without frequent communication, and to make the times when sending information is possible really count. Whatever the communication constraints, a solution to being in touch and accomplishing the goal must be devised.

Step 2 involves developing a procedure for distributing the information needed by team members at the appropriate time. Some information will need to be made available “on demand.” The Advisor’s reports need to be shared in a way that works for everyone.

Distributed Leadership (Network-Centric)

Instruction to students: Please read the articles and devise your own plan to deal with piracy in the Straits of Malacca. Keep in mind that the Straits of Malacca pose regional security, socio-economic, political, and strategic problems.

Pedagogical / Implementation realities: The students will be working individually, but yet, as they do so, they will be envisioning how their piece of the puzzle fits with the others.

They will be taking full responsibility for their role as an Advisor, and they realize that they must do a good job when they meet with the other Advisors so that they can work together to achieve the goal of creating a plan.

Some Advisors will find that the information provided to all is sufficient. Others will not. Thus, they need to be able to get information on an as-needed basis.

Because not everyone will have the luxury of a lot of storage space, or access to the Internet, it is useful to have all the readings and information available on the web, in easy-to-download files.

An audio version should also be available, ideally as an mp3 in an audio file. Later, the Advisor can listen through a handheld computer or through an iPod portable player. Graphics and other learning objects should be optimized for display in many different players, and delivery modes.

The Initial Readings for the Advisors.

Maritime terrorists lurk in S-E Asia: --

The Straits of Malacca and the waters off Indonesia are becoming hotspots for pirates


Navy looking for sailors abducted in the Straits of Malacca --

Malacca Straits remains one of most dangerous shipping lanes in world --

Straits of Malacca: Security Implications (map) --

Advisors Strategy Meeting.

The final step in the course is to plan an Advisors’ Strategy Meeting. This is when the final plan is developed. This is, in essence, a final project. However, with the “extreme situatedness” of the assignment, it is possible that some of the plan could be further studied by interested parties and actually implemented.

This text was first published at, without the podcast

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