Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Fun and Games of Teaching: Simulations in a Social Problems Course

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Fun and Games of Teaching: Simulations in a Social Problems Course

Article excerpt

In attempts to move my honors social problems course from a passive environment to a more active and student-centered one, I drew on my experience and the experience of others using simulations to produce a course model committed to "games" and student-initiated learning. I stepped back and reevaluated what I wanted my students to gain while in my class and what impact I wanted the course to have on their future in society. Simulation games provide an opportunity for students to discover knowledge and drive their own education rather than passively taking in information. These "games" are simulations of real world phenomena that can be reproduced in a classroom for academic purposes.

For example, I use a game called "The Sinking Ship" to examine status, occupation, education, and power. Each student is given an index card with a status written on it such as migrant worker, senator, college student, or nurse. I then read a prepared statement explaining that they are all on a sinking ship and have fifteen minutes to decide who of the eighteen passengers will be given the six lifeboat seats. I sit back and give them fifteen minutes to write the chosen survivors on the board. Usually they start by going around the room and making a plea for why they should be saved according to the status on their card. I then walk them through a detailed briefing about why they chose those individuals. Usually the cues for debriefing come from one first question, "Why them?" They begin to talk about power by describing who can sue the ship line on behalf of the victims or what the senator can do for them in the government if he/she lives. They discuss status and education by detailing what skills and knowledge each survivor could contribute while in the life boat. Concepts of gender also arise as they consistently refer to the doctor as male and the nurse as female regardless of who has the card. The students themselves begin to analyze the social concepts for our discussion rather than my listing them from a power point.

We all recognize the need for lectures, power points, and instructor-devised lists in the course of academia, but I try to combine those standard tools with more active participation models. While I use these simulations in some other classes as well, I do not devote any other class to the model as a whole. Part of my expectation of honors students is increased motivation, creative thinking, open participation, and adaptation to various learning designs, especially those that involve intellectual risk taking. In my honors classes at EIU, my students have met these expectations. Although my regular sections also respond well to simulations, I do have individual students who let the others in the group do the work, do not participate at all, or even mock the process as a whole. I never have those cases in my honors sections.

I also expect my honors students to do a better job of linking together viewpoints and knowledge bases from the various disciplines. A simulation allows students to respond honestly to what is happening rather than trying to devise the "right" or expected answer according to the class. This is one reason I particularly like this model in an honors class. Many of my students are in honors programs because they have learned the academic game: how to please, how to respond, how to perform according to expectations. The game model forces a more honest intellectual approach. It does make some students uncomfortable at first, but they respond well after a few weeks. In fact, this past semester I had several very quiet students who were somewhat unnerved by the model and said they were not used to speaking that way in class. By the time the final arrived (which is a graded Socratic Dialogue), each of these students did a remarkable job of answering questions on the spot without any trepidation. One freshman student said that his family always talked current events and politics at Christmas while he played Nintendo. …

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