How to be successful teaching with a business simulator
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TIPS FOR SUCCESS USING A SIMULATIONOur goal here is to provide you with an overview of a variety of ideas and techniques for using one of our simulations in your course. We offer these ideas based upon 40+ years of using simulation exercises in the classroom and from workshops, presentations, and casual discussions with colleagues at professional meetings most notably meetings of the American Association for Business Simulation and Experiential Learning (i.e., ABSEL).
ABSEL meetings provide a great venue for both novice and experienced simulation users to share their experiences and knowledge. If you are interested in attending these meetings, go to www.absel.org for information on the organization and its next conference.
Designing your classBelow is an overview of our suggested best practices for integrating a simulation into your class. Our instructor manuals provide a detailed discussion of these items.
- Number of Quarters to Operate the Simulation
We recommend that you require the players to run at least two to three years of simulated operation (i.e., eight to twelve quarters). Company results after this length of time reflect a team's conscientious planning efforts as opposed to luck. Some teams may initially get good results through blind luck. If they do not understand how they achieved their good results, their success will be short-lived. Teams who work to learn how to manage their company will see their performance improve. The multiple quarters of operation permit teams who understand their industry and company to become top performers.
- Frequency of Decisions
We recommend one decision a week until the students get familiar with managing their simulation company. This gives the students time to analyze the past quarter's results and plan for the next quarter. Requiring decisions in close succession too early in the exercise will only result in guessing by the students rather than thoughtful consideration. After six or seven quarters of operation, you should consider having the students make two decisions with very little time in between them. This will have them experience the problems that can arise when making decisions under time pressure. Teams that have not developed a system for working smoothly together can often find themselves forgetting to review all their decisions as they rush to meet the close deadline. Insufficient short-term loan requests with their subsequent emergency loans and high interest rates are a frequent by-product of a group managing as a mob rather than a team.
- Sample Syllabi
The Classroom in a Box provides some generic sample syllabi for different class-meeting schedules. We have not identified the class lecture topics to be presented, leaving that up to the discretion course instructor. Our intent here is to provide you with some ideas on how to incorporate the simulation into a weekly class schedule.
We typically count performance and assignments on the simulation exercise as 20% to 40% of the total course grade. Of course, this depends on how much of the course you allocate to the simulation. But remember, if you have the students make 8 to 12 decision rounds (i.e., quarters), the weight that the exercise carries in their final grade should reflect this time commitment. Otherwise many students will decide not to put much effort into the exercise and just run their company by the seat of their pants. If this is the case, they will learn far less than they would have if they had focused greater effort on the simulation.
The percentage of course grade allocated to the simulation exercise also depends on what kind, and how many, ancillary assignments you require in addition to the quarterly decision rounds. The Classroom in a Box provides a list of possible assignments you can use.
Below are a number of possible assignments you can use in conjunction with the simulation. We discuss these assignments in detail in Chapter 8 of the instructor manual.
- Require Teams to Maintain a Current Plan on File
- Require Teams to Submit a Year-End Plan
- Use Mini-Assignments Tied to Course Concepts
- Assign a Comprehensive Analysis Paper at the End of the Exercise to Assess Learning
- Use Group Presentations at the End of the Course to Discuss the Simulation Experience
- Use Simulation in Combination with Cases
- Have Students Calculate a Break-Even Analysis
- Use a Group-Based, Non-Confidential Peer Evaluation During the Term
Introducing a simulation to your classBelow is an overview of our suggestions for introducing a simulation to students.
- An Introductory Class Session
The purpose of the introductory session is to lead the class through the process of making a set of decisions for a quarter's operation. This class session allows students to ask questions about the mechanics of working with the software, decisions they will make, and reports they will receive. Review each decision on the decision sheet. Discuss the factors students should consider when making each decision and the relationships between decisions.
- Student Registration Process
Tell the students that the opening screen has a link for "Getting Started" instructions that will walk them through the process of registering to use the simulation. Also tell them that there is a link to download the Student Manual free of charge on this web site.
You must provide students with the validation code that you created in Step #2 of the "Set up Industry" process, described in the Instructor Manual. Make sure that you give each student the correct code so that they are assigned to the correct industry.
- Setting Up Teams
If you decide to use teams, think about the number of students to have on a team, the students' backgrounds, and free time available when making team assignments. Limit the size of a team to three to five members. Working in a group smaller than this does not produce many opportunities for students to practice working on their interpersonal skills. Groups larger than five have problems with individuals getting "lost in the crowd" and not playing an integral role in the team's operation.
Whether you assign individuals to a team or allow the students to create their own teams, we recommend a heterogeneous mix of backgrounds among the individuals on a given team helps minimize the likelihood that all team members have the same weaknesses. Also, common free time among team members provides the opportunity for teams to meet outside of class to work on the simulation. This facilitates better group interaction.
If you organize students into teams, you can choose to let them create their own organizational structure or require them to fit into a predetermined hierarchy. For example, a team of four could assume the positions of President and Vice-Presidents of Marketing, Operations, and Finance. Alternatively, you could require no specific organizational structure. In either case, we recommend you require each team to develop a list of responsibilities for each team member. This ensures that teams gain experience with issues of organization, delegation, motivation, and fairness. You can incorporate requiring students to submit a job description and an organizational chart as part of the simulation exercise and then link the assignment to class discussion of these topics. Having students actively work with concepts provides for an enriched classroom discussion and improved understanding of the topics by the students.
- Run a Trial Decision
If you are using the Team version of the simulation, you may want to conduct trial decisions for one or two quarters following the introductory class session. In the trial decision, each team manages its company for at least one quarter of operation. This trial will provide them with an exposure to the influence the marketing mix variables have on sales of their products. To accomplish this objective, tell the companies to buy all of the market research options. This will allow them to compare their marketing efforts and resulting sales volumes with those of their competitors. Conducting a trial decision allows students to test the market dynamics that result from the industry environment that you initialized and experience the actions taken by the other student-managed companies in their industry.
Conducting the Trial Decision. Conduct the trial decision as you would a normal quarter. Have the teams make a set of decisions for Quarter 1. Next, process the company decisions. Allow the teams time to review the results of their decisions and plan for future quarters of operations.
Once you have successfully completed the trial decision, you can conduct either another trial round by moving forward to Quarter 2 or begin the simulation exercise by going back to repeat Quarter 1. Chapter 6 of the Instructor Manual explains how to "Rollback to a Previous Quarter". Our experience is that a one or two quarter trial is sufficient to accomplish the objectives of running a trial quarter.
Benefits of a Trial Decision. A trial session allows students to become more familiar with the mechanics of the simulation and usually reduces anxiety levels. It helps students discover the simulation rules and procedures without disastrous consequences. It also illustrates the need to plan task and group activities.
A trial decision helps students understand the difference between forecasted and actual results. Students will recognize that just because they forecasted a profitable quarter does not mean they will actually achieve profitability. Students sometimes do not immediately grasp the distinction between their forecasted results and the actual results they will achieve.
Students' experience with the trial also will show them the importance of accurate forecasting. Student will learn as they continue to work with the simulation that without good forecasting, the ability to plan their long-term direction becomes weak as they react to their current results.
- Early Quarters of Operation
Do not alter the administrator-controlled variables for the first few quarters of the simulation. These include advertising and other costs, market demand for the products and other industry parameters. (See Chapter 2 of the Instructor Manual for more information about setting industry weights and parameters.) This allows students to develop a better understanding of the simulation's competitive dynamics before cost and market demand changes further complicate their environment.
Remind the students that any decisions they enter are not permanent until after you process their decisions, so they can feel free to experiment with different decision sets (e.g., pricing options). It is the last set of decisions that they submit that are used when processing a quarter. Only after you process the industry will these decisions be permanently recorded.
Handling Student Questions
- Question Strategy
Particularly at the early stages of working with the simulation, students will be frequently asking questions. We recommend that you strive for a balance of giving them a clear answer and taking a Socratic approach with your response. For example, if asked about the cost of an item, consider responding by asking how you can find the answer in the program. And impress upon them that learning how to answer their own questions will make them valuable employees following graduation.
Also remind them that there is extensive support embedded in the program in the form of tutorials and pop-up help when clicking on a label.
- Exception Reports
The goal of the Exception Report is to pull out selected data from the Instructor Report that highlight decisions/results for each company that indicate current or likely future problems, if corrections are not made. We designed this report with the intention of helping you identify problems that you can then discuss with the teams.
While we constructed this report for the instructor, only, if you click on the envelope icon for a team, the Exception Report for that team will be emailed to them. We advise that you do not do this early in the simulation exercise, as it will likely diminish the team's efforts to identify their problems and they may simply wait to be told the reasons for their worsening performance.
- Question Strategy