This is a guest post written by John Greene (he is blogging at MarketSharing), who is a Cesim simulation games expert and a Digital Marketing and International Marketing Lecturer at Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. He has extensive knowledge in marketing and new product development having worked in the FMCG sector in Ireland. He has travelled widely in Europe as well as China to source and develop new products. Since moving to Finland John has concentrated on teaching and consulting in the higher education sector as well as working as a marketing consultant to startups & SMEs.
The following is an account of how I teach with the aid of Cesim simulations and some of the most important methods I have discovered in the course of my teaching. Some of the methods or ‘best practices’ may not be suitable to every course in which a simulation is used, but hopefully provide some new ideas for teachers looking to successfully implement Cesim business simulations in their courses.
1. Integrate the simulation into the course
Simulations provide the flexibility to be used within your current courses, however, if possible or if building a new course I find building the course around the business simulation games really helps students' comprehension. In my marketing course, I use Cesim Simbrand as the key learning tool of the course and then build lectures about marketing around the marketing game, using basic theories such as the 4ps and beyond while at the same time having students put the theories into practice in the marketing management simulation game. In class, we cover more difficult theories as students progress through the simulation rounds.
2. Crosslink courses (eg.: Marketing & Accounting)
Some of my colleagues have found it useful to combine two courses around the simulation or use simulation outcomes in a number of courses. An example of combining courses would be using Cesim SimBrand marketing simulation in a marketing class and have students carry out calculations and key ratios in the accountancy course. The accountancy teacher finds it useful to bring accountancy to life and students gain an understanding of the importance of proper budgeting within marketing. Marketing students in particular are prone to thinking that marketing requires limited calculations, however, when they use the marketing simulator, the reality of a marketing professionals job is quickly understood as they carry out forecasts and budget calculation when launching their products to the simulated marketplace. Some teachers combine engineering and marketing students when using business simulator games as a way to teach an understanding of each disciplines role in product development etc.
3. Use a computer room to explain and practice
From my own experience, I find it very useful to explain the basics of using the business strategy games when students have the opportunity to try out the points I make on computers in front of them at the same time. Often I use the computer room to explain more complicated theories and have students try out the theories using practice rounds to see how various changes by different student teams impact the results.
4. Run practice rounds
You can run practice rounds within a lesson or provide a few days for students to practice. I find two practice rounds helps clear up any confusion and provide students with enough time to develop initial strategies. A few days time for students to practice and make decisions tends to be most efficient. In my own courses, I request students to hand in an initial document that outlines their business games' strategy and plan for their company in the opening rounds with the theories they will use to test their hypotheses. I generally provide initial feedback on students’ plans and their decisions in the opening two rounds.
5. Use the simulation to bring theory to life
I tend to provide lectures on theories, relating the various theories to the appropriate elements of the simulation while at the same time providing real life examples. Students find it very helpful to see and understand theories, see real life examples and then try out the theories as part of their decision making within the simulation.
A good basic example of bringing theory to life is using Cesim SimBrand to explain the marketing mix and have students come up with their marketing mix strategy.
6. Divide larger classes into group meetings
If you have a large class, breaking the class into meetings with students can be really productive. Student can detail their ideas for the simulation and how they are using theory and you can provide assistance to them. Students really enjoy the chance to meet with the teacher and detail their views. In my own courses, I tend to break down the course as follows:
- Class 1-3: Check student knowledge, re-introduction to subject matter and subject matter theories, explain the simulation. Divide students into teams.
- Class 4 & 5 Run practice rounds, lecture on subject theory and check student comprehension.
- Class 6-8: Review students' initial strategies for the first rounds. Meet student teams to discuss their initial ideas and results from first rounds.
- Class 8-11: Meet students teams to discuss and review results and lecture on theory if necessary.
- Class 12-13: Discuss overall results with student teams and ask teams to provide an overview of what theories they used, how they progressed in the rounds and how would they approach the simulation differently if they had the opportunity to start again. Carry out peer review.
Each course can be designed differently, but I find it best to run at least 7 to 8 rounds of the simulation plus two practice rounds to gain the most from the simulation.
7. Encourage students to take roles within their company teams
Often, as teams form their companies for the business strategy games, students take roles as part of the process such as Marketing Director, Finance Director, etc. Students find it to be a great way to see how job functions can combine to deliver company results. It is important when students take roles particularly, if you have students who specialize in a particular area, you should encourage students to swap roles or share roles, so that each student gets an overall view of functions and not stay within their comfort zone, e.g. accountancy students taking only the role of Finance Director.
Important: It is particularly important to have teams decide if they will have a CEO who takes charge of saving the teams decisions for each round, or if they will swap the final decision making role per round. In business games, students can each individually make decisions in their own accounts, and compare with team members and choose which decision to use as the teams decisions, or alternatively come together around one account and make a collective decision. Initially, when running courses using business simulations, I had small problems of students saving over other students' team decisions and having students choose a CEO or agree who saves the team's decisions for each round solves this problem.
8. Let students propose ideas and help them learn from mistakes
I find it important in the business simulator games to not to provide students with instructions on how they should play the simulation but let them come with plans, then question them on their plans and point them toward theories they can use to improve their decision making.
Students often recognize their own mistakes and explain them detailing how the will try to solve the problem they then face.
9. Don't need to motivate, focus instead
You won’t need to motivate students but you will need to get them to focus.
Students are often so motivated to win the simulations that they loose focus on how to use theories to assist them with their goal and need to be reminded.
In my own course, the report structure tends to be an initial report for the first rounds followed by a final report.
I have students prepare reports as part of the course. In Cesim Global Challenge, I have students prepare an initial strategic report and a final report. The initial strategic report explains the team's planned approach to the game and the final report explains how the plan changed, what actions the students took, what theories were most beneficial and what key learning points occurred.
11. Use peer review to avoid slackers within a group
In simulation based courses, teamwork is important and it is often the case that students may complain that one student is not putting the same effort as others within the group. I use a peer review survey for each team so students can rate each others performance and this goes toward the final mark. I find peer review helps avoid group problems. Meeting with teams and discussing with students their ideas also highlights students who are not contributing to team work.
12. Have team meetings at the end of the course for a feedback session
As previously mentioned, meeting with students and listening to their proposals and providing feedback helps students to gain a deeper understanding of putting theory into practice. At the end of the course and after the final game round, I request students to meet with me and provide their views and understanding of the simulator as well as the implementation of theory into practice. I note the meetings at the end of the course, because after some rounds of playing, it may not be necessary to meet teams as they have a good understanding of the simulation and theories and you can use the class to teach further theories and real life examples.
13. Assess with performance, learning process, and peer review
Even though the simulation is an important element of the course, it alone should not account for the total course grade. It is useful to only have the simulation form part of the course grade that way students who’s team is not first in the simulation are motivated to put extra effort to other areas of the course. When marking students performance using the simulation, I look at how students put theories into practice, how they overcame mistakes and their understanding of the theories used in the course. For teams who do not finish first or second in the simulation, it can be the case they made some poor initial decisions but then implemented a new strategic direction and improved. It is important to take into consideration the learning outcome students obtain from their own mistakes and mistakes made by other teams.
My courses have 50% for simulation, 35% for reports & 15% for team work/ class attendance/ peer review.