Simulations for dummies?

A good rule of thumb is that if it takes longer to explain how to use a pedagogy than it does to use it, then it’s not going to fly. This is a pretty low threshold – especially for any technique that implies hours of contact time – but still it’s helpful to keep in mind. Just think about how long we here at ALPS have been talking about active learning in general and simulations in particular.

It’s with this in mind, that I’ll starting on my next simulation-related project, namely the development of more resources for the UK’s Higher Education Academy. I’ve already put together a resource for them on simulations in political science, which I’ve also hosted privately here. From that, we’ve now agreed to try and produce something of use to all social scientists.

The brief is simple: make simulations as accessible as possible. That means taking nothing for granted.

Of course, the problem with things that one takes for granted is precisely that they are taken for granted and it can be hard to see what you have assumed. I might think it obvious that any assessment regime put in place for a simulation that contributes to a final grade for the module (in the UK at least) will have to have some way of allowing for second- and external-marking. But my experience here on ALPS tells me that this isn’t true for most of the rest of the world, while my other experience tells me that assessment does not always have to count towards final grades. However, I’m still making assumptions about the degree of understanding of assessment protocol that might not stand up to any close inspection.

To take one – very convenient – example, I know of an excellent academic, whose research is published in world-class journals and who is a recognised authority in her field. However, she doesn’t teach, so when she got roped into running a module for her institution this year, she had almost nothing to draw upon by way of experience. The process of piecing her content and delivery, not to mention her assessment, took many long conversations, both with me and with colleagues.

From my perspective, it was an excellent opportunity to talk explicitly about some core issues and practices, since it was being approached with fresh eyes and open minds.

It’s this which I would hope to capture in my HEA project now. As our workshop at APSA TLC last month showed, there is an appetite for learning more about simulations, but we have to recognise that we might not always give what is needed, nor fully understand the situation that people wish to address.

With that in mind, if readers want to pose any questions that might usefully be included in my guide, then I’ll both respond here and in the project, and maybe we can move things on a bit further.

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