We talk a lot about the immersive aspect of simulations on this blog: the way in which students become participants, actively taking part in the learning environment and so internalising the material.
However, it’s also important to recognise that this is not without issues, something that I was reminded of with this week’s news about the arrests made in the run-up to the Pokemon world championships. While that case wasn’t directly about immersion, it did speak to me of a problem of perspective and proportion. As much as we amplify the learning, so we also amplify the potential for distress.
I wrote an article some years ago about enhancing immersion, which discusses this in much more depth, but it’s helpful to reprise some of the key messages that flow from that about managing it.
- Neither staff nor students should lose sight of the simple fact that the simulation is just that, a simulation. As much as immersion is to be encouraged, so too must be an awareness of the artifice. Beforehand, you might warn students about the potential for getting drawn in. During the game, students can be required to perform tasks that make them step out of their roles (keeping notes and reflections on their actions, for instance). Most importantly, afterwards there must be a debrief, where students are consciously and conspicuously brought back to the ‘real world’. This is also a good point for some discussion about the artificiality of the simulation.
- There is a delicate balance to be struck between having too much conflict in a simulation and too little. Conflict helps to generate buy-in, as students have to defend their position and attack others’; it gives a easy way into them feeling that something is at stake. However, if that conflict becomes too big a part, then it colours everything else that happens, including life outside of the game. Similarly, if the impression is that everyone agrees, then students can struggle to get motivated by the topic. Usually, it’s pretty obvious if there’s enough conflict to work, but if you’re not sure, then I find that it’s good to sit with a colleague and talk through the issues with them;
- Simulations are artificial, but they still are supposed to tell us something about the real world, so it’s important not to completely box in the experience. This might seem to go against what I’ve just said, but it’s actually an extension of it: discussing the artificiality also requires us to discuss the realism. Certainly, I can say that I have learnt a lot about a lot of people, just through interacting with them on a simulation: not always good stuff, but definitely stuff that helps me to understand them better. The key point here is – once again – context.
In summary, simulations offer us great potential for insight – into ourselves and others – but we have to handle that with care and thought.