Educating about Diversity & Global Issues Experientially: A Review of Simulation Games for Use in Community-Based Learning Programs

By Lutterman-Aguilar, Ann | Transformations, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Educating about Diversity & Global Issues Experientially: A Review of Simulation Games for Use in Community-Based Learning Programs


Lutterman-Aguilar, Ann, Transformations


While certain types of simulation games such as Chinese war games date back to approximately 3,000 BCE, it wasn't until the last half century that they became a popular educational technique within the K-12 and university classroom. Since the 1950s, growing interest in experiential pedagogies and active learning has led to an exponential increase in the number and type of simulation games, many of which are now included in curriculum projects with diverse age groups and across many different disciplines. (Taylor & Walford, 1972, p. 20) Today simulations are used in professional training and scientific education, such as in the areas of business, engineering, astronomy, biology, chemistry, math, and physics, but also in the humanities and social sciences, in fields such as intercultural communication, conflict resolution, human resource management, environmental studies, political science, sociology, social work, history, and international relations. Simulation games can be and are used in nearly any classroom or community setting to make learning come alive.

With the advent of the Internet, computer-based simulations have grown tremendously and now include opportunities for elementary and middle school students to experience a virtual field trip to Antartica, participate in an Electronic United Nations, learn about the Panama Canal, experience a slice of life from children all over the world ("It's a Kid's Life"), and participate in other unique educational experiences using interactive databases. (Educational Simulations, Inc.). While such simulations obviously require advanced technology and economic resources that are not available in all educational settings, many effective simulation games are inexpensive or free, require simple props, and are easy for educators to facilitate and adapt.

What is a simulation game? It is simply an educational game that reflects aspects of the real world and requires players to assume roles that will help them accomplish certain learning goals by engaging them in the subject matter. According to Sisk, it is "a combination of a simulation and a game and functions as an operating model featuring the central characteristics of real or proposed systems or processes." (Sisk 1995, p. 81) Taylor and Walford (1972) highlight three important characteristics of a simulation game:

1. It is a technique oriented toward activity in the classroom, and in such activity both teachers and pupils participate. It represents an informal and corporate approach to the understanding of the situation.

2. It is usually problem based and therefore helpful in the development of inter-disciplinary approaches to learning. It also frequently involves the use of social skills which are directly relevant to the world outside the classroom.

3. It is a technique which is fundamentally dynamic. It deals with situations that change, and which demand flexibility in thinking, and responsive adaptation to circumstances as they alter. (Taylor and Walford 1972, p. 33)

Simulation games are an ideal tool for educators who seek to use experiential, critical, and feminist pedagogies in their classrooms because the games help create an inclusive, participatory environment in which students learn by actively engaging in an activity which allows them to experience and "problematize" an issue in a new way. This is what the critical or "popular" educator Paulo Freire called "problem-posing education," which involves "critical analysis of a problematic reality." (Freire, 1970, p. 168) Rather than having concepts explained to them through reading or a lecture, the simulation game enables students to experience and even embody the concepts. Perhaps most importantly, simulation games engage students in affective as well as cognitive learning and often motivate them to learn more about a given topic. This is consistent with feminist pedagogies that proclaim the importance of "embodied," affective, connected and subjective learning (Maher 1987; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger & Tarule 1986; Chodorow 1978; Gilligan 1982; Martin 1985b). …

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