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Journal of College Student Development 44.3 (2003) 443-445
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Using simulations to promote learning in higher education: An introduction John P. Hertel and Barbara J. Millis Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2002, 182 pages, $22.50 (softcover)
In the national report titled Greater Expectations (2002), representatives from the [End Page 443] Association of American Colleges and Universities describe the knowledge, skills, and abilities required of an "intentional, self-directed learner." Among these competencies are: "interpreting, evaluating, and using information discerningly . . . resolving difficult issues creatively. . . deriving meaning from experience . . . transforming information into knowledge and knowledge into judgment and action . . . [and] working well in teams" (p. 22). Actualizing this "new vision for learning" is no small task; creative approaches will be necessary to transform traditional higher education practices into those that can be considered successful under these complex terms. John Hertel and Barbara Millis' book Using Simulations to Promote Learning in Higher Education offers readers a window into one teaching method that has the potential to aid us (and our students) in meeting many of these educational objectives: simulations.
To use their comparison, creating good simulations is much like innovative cooking. The main purpose of this text seems to be to provide an appropriate mix of active ingredients—directives, prompts, and freedoms—that will empower educators to construct, execute, debrief, and evaluate their own education simulations for furthering specific learning goals. Hertel and Millis strike a balance of suggesting steps and procedures of designing and implementing simulations that are practical yet not prescriptive.
The authors begin by presenting an argument for simulations and the promise they hold for promoting student learning. They claim that simulations can aid faculty in motivating students, fostering "deep learning," reaching learning goals, and "bridging the gaps" between disciplines. Throughout the book, Hertel and Millis integrate perspectives from the literature on teaching, learning, and simulations in support of these claims. Chapter 2 introduces a description of simulations, the role(s) of teachers and students, and important elements of the simulation environment. Although the authors purposefully avoid furnishing a definition, they characterize education simulations as "sequential decision-making classroom events in which students fulfill assigned roles to manage discipline-specific tasks within an environment that models reality according to guidelines provided by the instructor" (p. 15).
In chapter 3, readers are lead through the important components of simulation design—from examining learning goals, time commitments, and the number and experience of students involved, to constructing realistic scenarios, characters, settings, rules, and related documents. Given the complex nature of simulations, it is also important to understand how to orchestrate the "flow" of events fundamental to a simulation's success—issues such as familiarizing students with this type of learning experience, assigning responsibilities related to roles, disseminating documents and information, and managing time—the focus of chapter 4.
Debriefing, the substance of chapter 5, requires participants to reflect on the simulation activities and outcomes, what they gained from participating, and how they might apply these lessons to their lives. The authors address how to plan and conduct debriefing sessions, even supplying a list of questions that can be used to guide students through this crucial process.
Evaluation is a challenge for every teacher, which makes it helpful that chapter 6 is devoted to exploring ways of assessing students' performance in a complicated [End Page 444] education simulation. Here readers are offered perspectives about peer assessment, self-assessment, competitive versus non-competitive grading, and formative and summative techniques for gaining insight into students' progress during the simulation (and the teacher's progress as facilitator) in relationship to learning goals.
While the first six chapters present general principles and key considerations when designing, performing, debriefing, and assessing education simulations of any size or scope, the last chapter of the book describes what they call an "extended simulation"—a simulation that "continues beyond a single event or phase" (p. 91). Hertel and Millis direct readers back through the simulation building process, this time providing the level of detail necessary for an extended simulation and sharing an example from a...