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Information Technology and International Relations: Using On Line, Interactive Simulations to Transcend Time, Space, and Attitudes
Unformatted Document Text:  These types of evaluations and others like them provide evidence that simulations have a positive effect on teaching and learning. However, research needs to go beyond basic descriptive observations, following Krain’s (2005) challenge to design studies that test seriously their effectiveness, and Gosen and Washbush’s call for more careful evaluation of these “experiential learning” techniques (2004: 270) . Evaluative studies suffer from two fundamental problems in their methodology, limiting their usefulness in assessing the pedagogy of simulations. First, few studies employ the use of a control group with which the simulation participants can be compared. This makes it difficult to ascertain with any level of reliability to what extent student learning is based on the simulation itself rather than extraneous events or personalities. Ideally, a class should be divided into two parts, one participating in the simulation, the other uninvolved. They would have the same instructor and reading assignments with only the simulation as the independent variable. Alternately, in larger universities, two sections of the same course might be used in a study that could choose one section as a control group and the other as an experimental group. This type of research design could present difficulties in an academic setting where the control group might feel left out of the excitement and enjoyment of the simulation. For studies to achieve a higher level of methodological reliability, however, some type of control is essential. Second, rarely if ever are studies replicated. One group of students who have participated in a simulation responds to a written or oral debriefing, and perhaps fills out pre- and post-simulation surveys. The results are usually positive, and the researchers move on to other things. Educators need to duplicate such studies in different institutions, at different times, with different types of students, lending greater confidence to their findings. This study presents a simulation involving small group decision making and negotiation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. One class was the experimental group who participated in the simulation. They were upper division students, juniors and a few seniors, who read material about the crisis and spent three class periods discussing it before beginning the simulation. A second class served as the control group. They were lower division, introductory students, mainly sophomores, who read different material about the crisis and also spent three class periods discussing it. The control group did not participate in the simulation. In addition to the simulation experience itself, there were two asymmetries between the control and experimental groups—a difference in the content of their reading and in their level of academic experience. These were different classes, one introductory, the other advanced. Ideally, both groups would be at the same academic level, reading the same material at the same time, but this was not possible, due to a limited number of courses and students at the institution where the study took place. Moreover, the groups were not selected randomly. The study relied on comparing individuals who had already enrolled in the two classes. Randomization would have strengthened the study, but this is not always possible in an educational setting where research must accommodate the academic mission and class schedules of institutions.

Authors: Stover, William.
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These types of evaluations and others like them provide evidence that simulations have a
positive effect on teaching and learning. However, research needs to go beyond basic
descriptive observations, following Krain’s (2005) challenge to design studies that test
seriously their effectiveness, and Gosen and Washbush’s call for more careful evaluation
of these “experiential learning” techniques (2004: 270) .
Evaluative studies suffer from two fundamental problems in their methodology, limiting
their usefulness in assessing the pedagogy of simulations. First, few studies employ the
use of a control group with which the simulation participants can be compared. This
makes it difficult to ascertain with any level of reliability to what extent student learning
is based on the simulation itself rather than extraneous events or personalities. Ideally, a
class should be divided into two parts, one participating in the simulation, the other
uninvolved. They would have the same instructor and reading assignments with only the
simulation as the independent variable. Alternately, in larger universities, two sections of
the same course might be used in a study that could choose one section as a control group
and the other as an experimental group. This type of research design could present
difficulties in an academic setting where the control group might feel left out of the
excitement and enjoyment of the simulation. For studies to achieve a higher level of
methodological reliability, however, some type of control is essential.
Second, rarely if ever are studies replicated. One group of students who have participated
in a simulation responds to a written or oral debriefing, and perhaps fills out pre- and
post-simulation surveys. The results are usually positive, and the researchers move on to
other things. Educators need to duplicate such studies in different institutions, at
different times, with different types of students, lending greater confidence to their
findings.
This study presents a simulation involving small group decision making and negotiation
during the Cuban Missile Crisis. One class was the experimental group who participated
in the simulation. They were upper division students, juniors and a few seniors, who read
material about the crisis and spent three class periods discussing it before beginning the
simulation. A second class served as the control group. They were lower division,
introductory students, mainly sophomores, who read different material about the crisis
and also spent three class periods discussing it. The control group did not participate in
the simulation.
In addition to the simulation experience itself, there were two asymmetries between the
control and experimental groups—a difference in the content of their reading and in their
level of academic experience. These were different classes, one introductory, the other
advanced. Ideally, both groups would be at the same academic level, reading the same
material at the same time, but this was not possible, due to a limited number of courses
and students at the institution where the study took place. Moreover, the groups were not
selected randomly. The study relied on comparing individuals who had already enrolled
in the two classes. Randomization would have strengthened the study, but this is not
always possible in an educational setting where research must accommodate the
academic mission and class schedules of institutions.


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