Confidence and simulations: a rising tide?

Yeah, pretty much like this

I’m in Antwerp today, as I’ve just joined the supervisory panel for Dorothy, who’s working on measuring the effectiveness of simulation games, something that we’ve repeatedly questioned here on the blog.

Reading up on this once again reminds me that one of the biggest difficulties understanding what happens in a simulation is that very much of it appears to be profoundly subjective.

Sims are vehicles for developing not only improved substantive knowledge and a range of skills, but also for creating safe spaces (yeah, I know: not that kind) for participants to explore other roles and personas than their own. Put differently, they can be moments for building confidence.

Now I don’t’ see confidence as a skill, because it strikes as more of an emotional state. Yes, you can train people to develop strategies that can make them feel more confident – preparation routines, reframing, distraction techniques – but ultimately one needs to feel confident to be confident.

Sims can be helpful in this by taking individuals out of themselves, and giving them licence to act differently. At some point, you are acting ‘out of character’, but the character you’re acting out of is your own.

To give a personal example, I don’t think of myself as particularly confident. Those of you who have met me might disagree with that, because you see me out and about, doing public things, but I see myself as quite timid and reserved.

It was my first simulation that gave me an occasion to really challenge that self-perception. The game was an ice-breaker for our course, and I ended up – by chance – in a reasonably consequential role. Two hours later, I was shouting my head off at a room of 100 fellow students.

I can’t quite recall now why I was shouting, but it made sense at the time. What I do know is that I’m not the ‘shouting at a 100 people’ type of person. But my role was.

Not only did that game fire my continued passion and research into simulations, but it also gave me a burst of confidence about articulating a public face that engaged more, but also remained true to myself. It didn’t involve shouting, but it did involve me being more determined to say what I thought and not just go with the flow.

Writing this, I realise that it’s something that a) was quite an important moment to me and b) I don’t talk about very much: I doubt that I’ve ever thought about it in these terms before, and certainly haven’t written it down like this.

So, it’s nice that I’ve had a nice experience, but what’s that got to do with anything?

Confidence is an environmental factor in the other learning that is/might be going on in a simulation. Increased confidence might translate into greater willingness to push one’s articulation of substantive knowledge, as well as clearly enhancing the practice of interpersonal skills. Suspicious as I am of the rising tide metaphor, I’ll use it here as it might well be that confidence raises all the boats.

But this brings us back to where we started. How do you measure that? How do you determine that any change in confidence is down to a simulation, rather than something else that might be happening at the same time? In my case, I was in a very particular educational and social setting and that might well have played a role.

As often is the case, I can’t offer a solution to this, only raise the question. But it’s one that is relevant to all active learning, because the placing of the student front-and-centre is driven by the logic that pushing them into that position precisely encourages them to see that they can do, and be, more than they were and are.