The Use of Simulations in Education

The Use of Simulations in Education
The purpose of my paper is to define simulations, discuss their value for educational purposes, and review some possible concerns regarding their use. Simulations Defined

Simulations offer society the opportunity to play out strategic moves to see the outcome before actually committing oneself to a real-life plan. "They can, for instance, empower biologists to explore the growth of cells, network managers to analyze the flow of information, city planners to play through complex growth and pollution scenarios, school children to experience the fragility of food webs, and more" (Ioannidou and Repenning, 1999, p.1).

Due to a desire to develop models that deal with highly, complex phenomena or issues, computer simulations were born. The basis for their creation was strongly linked with technological innovation. Increased access to computer simulation tools has therefore facilitated the exploration of complex issues, which were formerly beyond reach using the more traditional analytical methods (Windrum, 1999, p.1)

Simulations have become a new way of communicating, much like e-mail only interactive. A simulation requires a computer with high resolution graphics, Internet access, and if using the web, interactive simulations can be accessed through web browsers (Ioannidous and Repenning, p.1). According to Ioannidou and Repenning, simulations are a powerful communication tool for exchanging complex ideas. "When packaged as Java applets, simulations are also a good way to convey these ideas everywhere and support distance learning" (p.1).

One recent example of a simulation that we, as a class, had the opportunity to investigate was posted on the list serve as "Nowhere Road ? The Game" by Lloyd Rieber. In his words, the game promotes bicycle safety while giving a friendly tour of the real Nowhere Road where he lives, a country road here in Georgia complete with mean country dogs, lots of hills and curves, and the occasional impatient motorist.

Simulations As Educational Tools

Simulations are quickly becoming a favorite educational tool in a variety of fields ranging from humanitarian action to business management to accident prevention as in the case of Nowhere Road ? The Game, whose theme is bicycle safety. The reason for this is simple. Simulation games offer the opportunity to role-play, which provides "pretend experience" and as a result, flashes of insight occur, improving the quality of our perception of others and of given situations. It changes they way we look at each other, and this is where the value part occurs (Lopez, 1999, p. 1). Some examples follow:

Passages, a simulation game created by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), was used to make a broad audience more aware of situations confronting refugees. "Claire, a 34-year-old volunteer ? admits that even after several years? work with asylum seekers, she still did not understand why refugees were so insistent on keeping their families together ?. Then I too experienced the terrible sense of families being separated during the [simulated] bombardment" in Passages. " ? For me the only thing that counted from then on in the game was family unity? " (Lopez, p. 2).
In the field of accident prevention, conventional high-flight simulators are used, as well as, exercises that simulate hijacking and sudden illness of pilot situations. John Rolfe, an expert in his field, in co-operation with the Royal Air Force and British commercial airlines, reconstructed the circumstances in which flight accidents occurred creating emergency situations which crews must learn how to handle by following established procedures without snap judgments (Lopez, p.2). It is interesting to note that there is a big difference between learning a textbook case and applying what was learned in a real-life emergency situation. Computer simulations offer students/employees the opportunity to apply what is learned over and over again in a pretend emergency situation to prepare for a possible real-life emergency in the future. This type of training could easily be applied to other service industries such as police officer scenarios.

Many corporations use simulation games for training purposes at all levels from manual workers to executives. The areas covered include the following: Marketing, production management and human resources. The use of simulation games for business training began after the Second World War. The most popular of the early games was Top Management Decision Simulation, which was designed by the American Management Association in 1956 (Lopez, p.1).

Chapman and Sorge (1999) discuss the benefits of using computer simulations as an instructional tool citing Mariani, 1997; Scott & Frontczak, 1996. The value of using simulations to enhance business learning is apparent when one considers that in today?s workplace, recruiters want business students who have real-world knowledge in addition to a college degree (Mariani, 1997; Scott & Frontczak, 1996). According to Chapman and Sorge business educators are turning to computer-based simulations in an attempt to improve their students? decisionmaking and analytic abilities (Alpert, 1993; Cadotte, 1995; Pascoe, 1992; Weinstein, 1996). In other words, practical skills are being learned in the classroom that can be immediately applied to the workplace.

Most simulations are designed to expose students to the actual environment where they must use their knowledge and analytical skills to make meaningful, precise decisions. Some critics have questioned the effectiveness of simulations despite the obvious benefits to using these interactive learning environments. (Chapman and Sorge, 1999, p.2).

Some Criticisms of Using Simulations

"For a company about to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in new manufacturing or material handling equipment, there are undoubted benefits in using simulation" (Garnett, 1999, p.1).

Garnett is right that simulations make good sense as instructional tools, but there are also pitfalls. Simulations require a great deal of time and effort, not just in creating computer models, but also in applying general problem-solving skills (Garnett, p.1). Another criticism is that simulations are becoming so trendy that companies have begun to map and analyze a whole range of their processes, not just the capital-intensive ones. Therefore, recent years have seen a dramatic increase in sales of simulation software. But are simulations too complex to become mainstream? And should simulations be applied to every problem including "the bottleneck at the photocopy machine?" (Garnett, p.1).

Another handicap is the saturation of simulation software, and yet, there is no one product that dominates the market. Many articles and papers have devoted space to selecting the right tool. However, with so many choices available, it would take many hours of research both extensive and exhaustive to fully investigate user attitudes/opinions regarding which simulation tool is best for which project (Garnet, p. 2.). Also, the simulation market is so diverse and dynamic that it would be very difficult to keep up-to-date in learning more about certain aspects of simulations (Garnet, p. 3).

Another cautionary note emerges as simulation software companies produce ever-richer assortments of software tools. "?The effective use of simulation requires more than just good software. For business and industry [as well as education], to take real advantage of this software, they have to show a real commitment to training and education"

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