How to debrief a simulation

Being able to see what’s happening in your session is probably also important

One of the topics that popped up at various points at TLC and ISA was the question of debriefing.

Everyone who does active learning and sims work agrees it’s important and there was lots of head-nodding whenever it was mentioned. Yes, it’s essential for reconnecting students’ learning within the activity back into their wider understanding and development, so why wouldn’t you agree?

However, at neither conference did anyone really get into what happens in a debrief.

Part of me nearly jumped straight into ‘I’ll write a blog’ mode, but then sensible me rocked up to say ‘maybe check to see if anyone’s already written something about this first’, which is good advice. Well done, sensible me.

And there’s loads of stuff. Here are some highlights:

Between them, these resources offer more than enough for you to chew on as you design/review your own debriefing approach.

For me, one thing that’s really helped in having materials to hand for any simulation debrief is a simple way of organising my thoughts as the activity is underway.

I take a sheet of plain paper, quarter it off with two lines, then label those quarters ‘Actors’, ‘Process’, ‘Outcomes’ and ‘Other’ respectively.

In ‘Actors’ I keep any notes about the participants in the game: who (doesn’t) speak, who leads, how they frame things, that kind of thing.

In ‘Process’ I record the dynamics of the negotiation: consensus-building, factions, time management/pressure and so on.

‘Outcomes’ is for what comes out at the end, although it’s also handy to note things that didn’t make it too.

And ‘Other’ is for anything that doesn’t fit the other three categories (and because dividing a sheet of paper into three is too tricky for me, apparently). It rarely gets used, but it’s nice to have some spare space. And sometimes it’s just the right place for that random thing that happens.

When we debrief, I’ll got my thoughts already organised more analytically, so as we go into students’ reflections and discussion, I can check off my things as they arise and start making some connections to support the process further.

It’s not high-tech at all, but it works well for keeping me in a reflective mode as the simulation proceeds, across all the (for me) key aspects. If you have particular things you want to access in your debrief, then other titles would apply.

Other ideas most welcome from all of you, either in a comment below or you can write us a post.