Bookending: Prebrief and Debrief

mission-briefingDebriefing allows students to process their experience of a simulation and evaluate that experience against concepts. The same technique is often called “reflection” if there is no simulation involved.

Explaining the purpose of an activity before students engage in it is also very beneficial, because it primes them to seek out and pay attention to information previously identified as important. A prebriefing (or preflection) creates a context that facilitates students’ mental and emotional engagement during the activity. The acronym “DIE” encapsulates what an instructor should include in a prebriefing:

  • Describe the activity (what).
  • Identify the reasons for the activity (why).
  • Explain what students will need to do during the activity (how).

Military units use the DIE format before a mission (though a different acronym is usually chosen). The idea is not rocket surgery.

Despite this, my prebriefings can be mediocre. I am good at the what and the how but I frequently do not emphasize the why. I make the mistake of assuming that the purpose of an activity is obvious to students; for example, that writing a response to a reading assignment is training in building a persuasive argument and communicating effectively. And that it also helps strengthen memory.

Much of this goes back to the design principles we often talk about — choose the objective first, then find an activity or experience that can provide students with a route to that objective. But also make students aware of that objective.