It is a frequently used term in the rapidly-changing field of educational technology. For a teacher, innovation has many meanings. It can involve trying a new technology or teaching method, but also applying an existing technology or teaching method to a new context.
This year, I used a simulation software in one of my course for the first time. The software is recreating the management of a hotel in an environment where the hotels (student groups) compete for market shares against each other. During the sessions the groups decide on a strategy and make operational decisions accordingly.
During four lessons I give no lecture and only control the class by advancing the time in the simulation by pressing a button. I have no power over the outcomes or results of the groups. Every session’s result depend on the team’s individual decisions in the market. Sessions are normally highly energetic, with intense discussions on which decision to take followed by frustration and exasperation or great satisfaction depending on the results for that month. Students are engaged, participate and search for solutions to their operational problems. An achievement for any educator!
If you interested in trying a simulation software in training, I have three pieces of advice.
#1. Consider your audience
Think about the prerequisites needed to understand the areas of the simulation. Introducing the activity too early in the educational program may lead to complete failure as students would not be able to comprehend and therefore not fully profit from the software.
Remember, your students come from different educational backgrounds and different cultures. The gamification pleases some and scares others. Their reactions at the start were mixed; from being on-board, “I love games” to “I don’t understand”, or “too much to prepare and read, I’m confused”.
Just because your students are millennials and spend, in general, an enormous amount of time on their smartphones does not mean they know how to navigate and work a simulation software. Prepare clear instructions via “how-to” videos and written instructions. Allow for one trial session where they familiarize with the environment and tasks. Adapt and explain, each group will need specific and tailored advice.
#2. Create groups
My experience with group work in general is mixed, however for this particular activity it works wonders. The advantage with a simulation is the amount of information and areas it covers, too much for one or two persons to manage. The groups need to divide up the work by departments (just as in a hotel) and take individual decisions BUT working towards the same goal, a commonly agreed upon strategy. Each decision impacts the other departments and the hotel’s global results. Students have to propose, discuss and defend ideas, implement and judge results. It is a pleasure observing this process!
#3. Mix with traditional course material
The software creates a unique learning opportunity, something impossible to replicate without the help of technology. Even though the simulation in itself is a fantastic learning experience for students I suggest mixing with a “traditional” activity such as writing a report. Students are encouraged to reflect on their decisions and outcomes, they have to think about what went well and what did not and why. The grades have nothing to do with the actual result in the simulation but reflect on their capacity to consider and analyze their performance. The feedback concerning the report was very positive and many students commented on how it allowed them to make an in-depth analysis on their results in the market.
A last suggestion is to include a non-graded section in the report where each student writes a few phrases on “What did you personally learn from the simulation game” and” What are your suggestions for the future”. It becomes a wonderful source of ideas for future semesters and how to further improve the activity.
The experience running the simulation was incredibly rewarding both for myself and for the students. It never got repetitive, not one group had the same results, and even if at times similar decisions were taken the results depended on the other 9 groups in the class. Groups managed to tackle the challenges by working together, finding a common strategy for issues they would not be able to solve individually. They delegated roles and responsibilities, discussed, argued, and shared their different perspectives and most of all worked together to achieve a common goal! Would I do this again? Definitely! At times, it was chaos, but the outcome was all worth it.