SimSchool is a classroom simulation that supports 'the rapid accumulation of a teacher's experience in analyzing student differences, adapting instruction to individual learner needs, gathering data about the impacts of instruction, and seeing the results of their teaching', as stated on the website (www.simschool.org). It is a 'virtual learning environment where instructors can explore instructional strategies, examine classroom management techniques, and practice building relationships with students that will translate into increased learning'. When starting a simulation, you can choose from several learning activities, which you can assign to the whole class or just one student. You can also give behavioral and academic assertions, observations and inquiries. When doing that the student's power, happiness and achievement will be influenced. By experimenting you can try to make your students happy and achieving without losing too much power. Of course this seems easier than it is - at least that is my observation.
Everly's bad day
Now I will describe one module. Everly's Bad Day. I do not want to anticipate, but with me as a teacher Everly really had a bad day. I started with looking at the file of Everly in the computer. There I found that he likes assignments and stays on task. He needs some stimulation and manages to get along with other students. Then I started the simulation. I began with the steps provided in the manual for the lesson. But halfway I got lost. Nothing seemed to change, even the time did not proceed. I came to the conclusion that Internet Explorer wasn't the right browser. When using Mozilla Firefox I restarted the simulation. This time I tried to adapt the teaching strategy to Everly. First I made him read silently. Achievement boosted, but power and happiness quickly fell. So I decided to let him play a game. He liked that, but achievement dropped. After that I did not manage to let it boost again without letting Everly lose happiness or power. It was really difficult, and this was just one student. Think how well everything would have been with a whole class of students! The reason I failed probably had something to do with picking the wrong assignments for Everly. But still I do not know which ones I should have picked. Probably I had to little time to figure that out. With more time I am pretty sure I would have found it out.
Linking to pedagogy and technology
The simulation of SimSchool really has experiential value, because everything that happens is very concrete (Reeves, 1998). As a user you are constantly challenged to reflect on what you do. Why is this happening? What can I change? This implies learning from your experiences, constructing knowledge based on what you experience. The pedagogy therefore has constructivist characteristics (Smith & Ragan, 2005). Of course this experience is not real, it is just a simulation. A lot of factors, like the mood of the students, the way in which the assignments are used and communication with the students are not available or very limited. But that doesn't mean that it has no potential to work. Reeves (1998) points out that learning through using knowledge, skills and attitudes is much better than learning through memorizing it. The simulation is helping to use knowledge and skills, not to memorize it.
In SimSchool users can make their own simulations, but also instructor can do so. These simulations can be shared. This makes SimSchool easily modifiable, which according to Reeves (1998) seems to have some dangers, because implementation becomes difficult. On the other hand, every created simulation is very teacher-proof, which means that nothing can be changed to it. Reeves (1998) proposes a balance between teacher-proof and easily modifiable, because modification allows for innovations that can make implementation more successful. This balance seems to be available in SimSchool. I also think that SimSchool can offer flexibility, because so many things can be decided by the learner. But also an instructor can pre-make a lot of options, which allows for flexibility too.
Reeves, T. (1998). Evaluating what really matters in computer-based education. Visited on 11 Octrober, 2011, via http://www.eduworks.com/Documents/Workshops/EdMedia1998/docs/reeves.html
Smith, P., & Ragan, T. (2005). Instructional design. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.