student success blog
This blog is here to help incoming freshman with hints and tips to a successful college life. Feel free to contact us if you feel you have something to add.
by Dr. Michael Sutton
Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business, Westminster College in Salt Lake City, UT
The Institution: Westminster College is a nationally recognized, private comprehensive liberal arts college in Utah founded in 1875. Westminster offers a broad array of undergraduate and graduate programs. The college enrolls an estimated 2,300 undergraduates and 760 graduate students. Four schools comprise the college: School of Arts and Sciences, Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business, School of Education, and the School of Nursing and Health Sciences. Students come from almost every state in the USA and 23 countries internationally. The unique learning environment prepares students for success through active and engaged learning, real world experiences, and a vibrant campus community.
The Customer: University and college students are paying more today for an undergraduate education than their payments may have paid for a combined bachelor, master and doctoral degree 40 years ago. Students expect to use and apply significant educational technology as the new normal for their courses. With the value of the loans being accrued, most students are demanding a more engaged learning space and new applications of gamification, serious games, and simulations.
Dr. Clayton M. Christensen, the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, has made some dire prediction about how long the traditional institutions of higher education can survive if they do not adapt and adopt learning strategies oriented to our millennial generations. Apparently, the best before date will occur in the next 15 years, “The scary thing is that 15 years from now, maybe half the universities will be in bankruptcy [or extinct]…”
The Challenge: Currently, an abyss has become more apparent between the use of traditional learning strategies in higher education and the application of new educational technologies. The attention span and engagement quotient of millennials with traditional lectures and labs is very short lived. Listening to a professor for 2-3 hours “talk to” the student audience is a dying learning technique. National and regional research studies have demonstrated that an engaged student has a much higher probability of learning, passing, or excelling at courses, and consequently, of graduating with a degree. Investigations have proven that the lecture theatre with 250 students is not an active, engaging learning space.
Undergraduate students are more easily engaged in the classroom or online with a tool that permits a simulation of “hands-on” experiences. Add some gamification elements, i.e., leaderboards, badges, points, ranking, and you now have tapped into a suite of motivating factors to support competency buildings and skills acquisition.
The Journey: The learning space needs to facilitate a “safe place” to be challenged with new experiences normally unavailable in the classroom. Reading a text, creating a presentation, adding an entry to a discussion forum, or reflecting upon a situation are useful in order to stimulate imaginations. However, such learning strategies seldom enact critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving, and decision-making at deeper levels—three significant skills that employers are demanding to see within graduates. A recent student commented:
“I found myself within a virtual world of my own making. My decisions had an impact on the next challenges in the simulation. I was able to make choices and recognize consequences where I received instant feedback, in terms of badges and points. Sometimes I was recycled through a scenario to take a different learning approach to achieving a better score, when I failed an important decision point. At least my lessons learned were better acquired in a simulation where I had a “do over,” than in a real life experience, where I may have been judged as a complete novice or absolute fool.”
The Instructor: Dr. Michael Sutton has been using serious games, gamification, and simulations in his university classrooms for the last decade. Even before Michael went back to the academy to achieve his doctoral degree and graduated as a lifelong-learner when he was 57 years old, he used serious gaming and simulations in his corporate training projects. Michael has been recognized as an emerging authority in this popular practitioner and educational area encompassing gaming. He has been able to observe and note significant changes in the leadership and teamship skills of students he has exposed to game-based learning outcomes.
The Discovery: Facilitating immersive learning environments has been the hallmark of Michael’s courses in the last decade. He has been able to observe increased self-regard, self-confidence, and a foundation for a healthier and more professional self-image through the use of serious games, simulations, and gamified exercises. Michael is involved in a number of research initiatives to investigate the impact of these learning strategies on students in higher education.
The Solution: Michael approached EI Games about a year ago when the simulation was first released to high tech enterprises and business firms. EI Games’ Planet Jockey Leadership Game is an award-winning simulation that uses exercises, scenarios, and situations to build emotional intelligence through a leadership course. Michael was immediately surprised and encouraged by a simple walk through with a few of his students. None of the students wanted to quit the tool. All of them wished to max out their points, gain badges, and work toward the completion of the business simulation.
The Implementation: After that quick sampling, Michael approached EI Games about implementing the gamified simulation within his Managing People undergraduate course. The learners were put into small groups of 3-5 team members and asked to complete one session per week. The students were asked to rely upon each other when trying to get through one of the five sessions. When the students returned to the classroom, Michael led the structured debrief of the obstacles, challenges, issues, and concerns that the students encountered. This stimulated some of the most impassioned discussions the instructor had encountered during the past ten years.
The Results: Michael wishes he had built the learning experience as a research project from its launch. However, he observed during the next semester a number of students returning to discuss with him the techniques and skills acquired from the simulation that were immediately applied in their workplaces. Many students also asked if he had located other online simulations they could use to build professional traits and leadership characteristics, along with emotional intelligence skills. Michael is pursuing additional research encompassing more gamified simulations and serious gaming.