Can you make a template for simulations?

One of the interesting questions that came up during my trip to Germany last week was the notion of how one can create a template for a simulation that others can use. As Chad noted in the comments to that piece, that really requires setting out notions of general intent, rather than a compendium of “if A…then B”-type plays.

Old Amsterdam’s not actually involved in the project, but if they were, then this would be a great piece of experiential learning

This is something that’s about to become a lot more pressing for me as an issue, since I am heavily involved in a major TEMPUS project with the European Commission. That project – Innovative Teaching in European Studies (or INOTLES) – brings together Surrey with Maastricht and the IES in Brussels to share our pedagogic approaches with a group of partners in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. This week sees our kick-off meeting.

The idea is to develop a series of templates of modules in different areas of European Studies, which the Eastern partners can then use to refresh their local provision. But instead of making a bespoke product, we are building templates that can be adapted to different institutions and contexts. Hence my initial interest in this question.

What is evident, is that this is going to be an analogous situation to the one I was discussing with the Freiburg team. Just as with a simulation – in the narrower sense – an entire module that uses simulations will have to reflect both integrity of its core function and flexibility in achieving that.

One of the real challenges of this project will be to identify that core function, since it is necessarily two-fold.

On the one hand, there is the substantive content. This might be EU policy-making or fundamentals of EU law in our case. That represents the material that students have to be able to engage with and act upon (at the very least, in their assessment).

On the other, there is the pedagogic approach used (the heart of the project). With Surrey’s experience in simulations, IES’s in blended learning and Maastricht’s in problem-based learning, we want to show how those pedagogies work in practice. Indeed, even if we are using one of those pedagogies in a particular template, we obviously also want to encourage reflection by all involved (and those who use our subsequent outputs) on how they can be taken into other modules and courses.

Thus the templates are about means and ends, in equal measure.

The consequence is that as well as the more practical issues of flexibility that we have to think about – class size, timetabling, resources and the like – we also have to spend much time discussing and agreeing on what has to be delivered and what is more optional.

I’d love to say that I have a cunning plan for all this, but that would be the proverbial hostage to fortune. However, as we progress over the next three years of the project, I’ll be bringing regular updates on how we tackle this, as well as trying to get colleagues to write themselves about the challenges it imposes.

2 Replies to “Can you make a template for simulations?”

  1. As always you put the finger right on the issue that seems crucial for learning from each other: how can we actually translate what works for one instructor/institution to another; Yet, in terms of active learning I am lately thinking about something similar but just on a different level: active learning assumes that there is a decisive role for the learner to shape the learning process, and among other things to identify the concrete learning objectives; at the same time (and I am sure our institution is not the only one) instructions have to justify the course set-up and the methods used in terms of general objectives that are then tested;
    Now, in my view, the issue is that it is good to have a general aim for the course, but that the whole idea of setting overall objectives is just totally ignoring the individual aspects of learning: different students with different background will identify different objectives – especially in terms of skills; this individual notion of learning is in the end what we praise active learning for, but it seems to be totally ignored by our attempt to standardize, test and make everything measurable; perhaps the two levels of objectives (general and individual) can go hand in hand but I also strongly believe that we should stop pretending that they are the same.

  2. I don’t think a general template for simulations is possible or even a good idea. Different courses in different areas of study have very, very different learning objectives and, if simulations are useful in fulfilling them, the play will be as different as the courses.

    I use Reacting to the Past games a lot in my courses. These are extended simulations, more like war games (they usually take 4 weeks to prepare and complete) then anything else. This is a very well thought out pedagogy with a considerable number of games already developed and a relatively consistent format. Yet I doubt if anybody using Reacting would venture to formulate a general template for the games. The situations are simply too different, the objectives too varied, and the methods of play too particular to the games themselves.

    However, if you are bound and determined to try this, I’d look at some Reacting games and see if something like that could be developed for the EU studies you are going to work on. The games are the best pedagogical tool I’ve ever used.

Comments are closed.