How to Teach with Simulations

Instructor Preparation is Crucial

The good news is that instructional simulations can be very effective in stimulating student understanding. The bad news is that many simulations require intensive pre-simulation lesson preparation. Lesson preparation varies with the type and complexity of the simulation. However, most expert users argue that instructional simulation work best when:

  • Instructors have a clear written statement in the course syllabus about the goals of the simulation and an explanation of how the simulation is tied to the course goals.
  • Instructors read ALL the supporting material for the simulation.
  • Instructors do a trial run of the simulation before assigning the simulation to students, when possible.
  • Instructors make sure that university laboratory facilities support the simulation when laboratory facilities are needed.
  • Instructors integrate instructional simulations with other pedagogies such as Cooperative Learning or Interactive Lecture Demonstration.

Active Student Participation is Crucial

Students learn through instructional simulations when they are actively engaged.

  • Students should predict and explain the outcome they expect the simulation to generate.
  • Every effort should be made to make it difficult for students to become passive during the simulation. Students must submit timely input and not rely on classmates to play for them.
  • Instructors should anticipate ways the simulation can go wrong and include this in their pre-simulation discussion with the class.

Post-Simulation Discussion is Crucial

Post-simulation discussion with students leads to deeper learning. The instructor should:
  • Provide sufficient time for students to reflect on and discuss what they learned from the simulation.
  • Integrate the course goals into the post-simulation discussion.
  • Ask students explicitly asked how the simulation helped them understand the course goals or how it may have made the goals more confusing.