As learning environments all around the world continue to grapple with the sudden shift to online, distance learning brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many instructors are looking for new learning tools and platforms that can help them continue to teach and keep students engaged. At HFX, we are committed to helping teachers and trainers navigate this challenging road through our portfolio of supported online simulations and digital courseware.
To highlight the importance of selecting the right learning solution when pivoting suddenly to an online learning format, today we are sharing a recent client success story featuring Massey University, New Zealand and our flagship simulation, The Strategy Game.
The Master’s in Management Program at Massey University, New Zealand, concludes with the Professional Practice Capstone course. Normally centered around a ‘Professional action investigation’, the course instructor, Professor Kaye Thorn, was interested in instead using a business simulation to help bring key concepts to life as well to thoroughly test students on the knowledge they had acquired throughout their program.
In selecting a solution, the instructor required a solution that would:
- Work for English as a Second Language (ESL) students
- Keep learners engaged
- Adequately test and assess Professional Practice capstone skills/knowledge
- Be easy for both learners and instructors to navigate, and offer 24-hour access
All set to begin as a classroom-based course, the sudden onset of the COVID-19 related lockdowns meant that the HFX solution would be delivered to an entirely online and geographically dispersed class, as students found themselves either stranded around the AsiaPac region or holed up in their accommodation.
I was worried that the students (90% Chinese, 10% other, 100% with English as a second language), would not engage with the course, but I couldn’t believe the way they got engrossed in it.
– Professor Kaye Thorn
Why Did it Work?
The simulation was a resounding success and received positive feedback from both instructor and students alike. There are 3 key reasons with the HFX solution worked so well:
- HFXs Simulations are optimized for seamless online delivery, which meant that COVID had zero negative impact on the success of the course.
- HFXs Simulations come with engaging and thorough digital courseware to maximize student engagement, which meant that students were engaged even in a distance learning format.
- The Strategy Game itself is a perfect fit for a management capstone course, and as a result, the instructor saw significantly improved learning outcomes over previous cohorts.
We’ll now look at each of these reasons in more detail.
1. Seamless Online Delivery
HFX is aware of the challenges that using a new simulation can present to instructors, especially in an online class format. To ensure seamless online delivery, our solutions come with two key features: integrated instructor support and our digital courseware platform.
Integrated Instructor Support
We offer tiered support packages depending on the client’s experience and comfort level with simulations. For all clients, we take care of all elements of simulation game set-up (class onboarding, team set up, submission deadlines) and game-play processing (e.g. decision submission, round processing, in-game events) are programmed by HFX in accordance with instructor preferences.
For Massey, we also delivered our premium, ‘White Glove’ support service that includes:
- Simulation-Course customization: In consultation with the instructor, we create a bespoke simulation-course front page and online curriculum, specifically for your class. We can create additional teaching content to focus on specific learning outcomes, and can also monitor student course compliance and loafing via peer reviews and quizzes. Also, for those games with customizable parameters and scripts, we help you adapt these to better target your learners.
- Unlimited Instructor Coaching Calls: In our premium package, we offer the instructor unlimited coaching calls, ensuring that the instructor understands each stage of the simulation and is fully prepared for student questions in advance.
- Direct-to-Learner Instructional support: In our premium package, students have direct access to our support desk. At the instructor’s discretion, the students may receive communications directly from us to help with pre-game and in-game orientation and support and end-game analysis, helping them extract maximum learning value from their experience.
Online Delivery Platform
The second way we offer seamless online delivery is through our digital courseware delivery platform at courses.hfxtraining.com. As our simulations and supporting curricula are cloud-based, there are no applications to download, no operating system compatibility issues to navigate and students can engage with the simulations and supporting materials remotely via mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop.
We can also set up the courseware so that it is ‘gated’ – meaning that learners are only able to advance to the following lesson after watching the assigned lesson’s video and taking a ‘compliance’ quiz. This means that the instructor can have a “hands off” approach when it comes to students advancing through the course at their own pace, remotely.
2. Maximizing Student Engagement
“This is a strength of the game – the power of it was such that it could keep the students engaged through the various stresses and strains of COVID.”
– Professor Kaye Thorn
Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting quarantine protocols put new kinds of stressors and pressure on all of us, learners included. Professor Thorn was concerned that, under these circumstances, keeping students engaged remotely would be especially challenging. Not only were her students dealing with the stressors of a pandemic, but they would also now be required to engage in hands-on learning from a distance. In the end, the students engaged successfully with the HFX game and platform. There are two key features of our simulations that drove this success: our world-class courseware and the dynamic, competitive nature of our games.
The simulation courseware has been carefully designed to optimize student engagement. Using a variety of media, from teaching videos, written case studies, workbooks and excel worksheets, the courseware covers everything from the mechanics of playing the game and submitting decisions, to business management theory and concepts. In addition, the teaching videos are short (3-8 minutes each), easy to follow, and helped Massey students navigate each new round of the game without feeling overwhelmed.
“[One of the things I like about the simulation] was the thorough explanation of game that came via the teaching videos. Delivering these videos in small chunks makes it more interesting, and helps you feel that you are on a learning journey.’
– Professor Kaye Thorn
Competitive & Fun
What’s one of the main reasons simulations are such effective teaching tools? Because they are fun! When compared to traditional reading assignments and lectures, the competitive, dynamic nature of a simulation game is hard to beat. Students are taken out of a passive role in learning, and instead take the reins themselves, motivated to react and respond competitively to the actions of their peers. This dynamic learning format helped keep Massey students interested and engaged even when playing remotely and under the new strains of COVID-19.
It’s a great learning tool and very fun and interactive.
– Massey University Student
3. Good Fit for a Capstone
The final reason that the simulation at Massey went so well, was because of the simulation game itself. The game used is called ‘The Strategy Game’ and places students at the helm of a fictional manufacturing company with a four-year operating history. For Massey’s professional practice capstone, The Strategy Game was a good fit for two reasons: it helped consolidate the skills and knowledge the students had acquired over their program (mastery learning) and it was of the right size and complexity to fit into the broader capstone course curriculum. Let’s look at these in more detail now.
The Strategy Game is a generalist ‘Total Enterprise Game’ that requires students to make decisions across all the major business functions, such as strategy, marketing, operations, HR, and finance. This means that, in order to play effectively, students need to forecast and generate demand for their products, plan production and overall capacity and finance their company’s activities, all in a way that is aligned with their specific strategic goals (each team can choose what goals to pursue) and reacting to the maneuvers of their competitors. As such, the game is a fantastic way of getting students to put into practice all of the hard skills and conceptual understanding they have acquired over the duration of their program.
In addition, when students play in teams, The Strategy Game requires students to engage in what might be termed ‘organizational behavior best practices’, with effective delegation, teamwork, and leadership being essential to a successful outcome in the game. So the game is a great way to instill and drill essential soft skills, and in an online setting such as the one at Massey, students got a realistic taste of the challenges of teamwork and communication in a distributed environment!
Ultimately, simulations like The Strategy Game force the students to put skills into practice in a realistic environment, and as part of a capstone, can give them the confidence that at the end of their program, they really are ‘masters’ of their domain, and are now ready to go and engage with real-world business problems in real-world way.
Another reason that The Strategy Game was a good fit for the Massey capstone is that it is very easy to integrate within a larger course, where the simulation is but one component. At Massey, the simulation was delivered over a 6 week period (two weeks introduction and practice, four weeks of live gameplay) in the context of a 12-week course. Simulation related assignments (game score, reflective journals and end of game presentations) only counted for 50% of the overall mark – and the balance was based on a group assignment that was conducted in the first half of the semester.
The reason that The Strategy Game can fit into a broader course like this is because it is intentionally designed to be relatively accessible. Although the game is complex and demanding, students only need to make 20 decisions per round: on the other hand, some other Total Enterprise Games challenge students to make up to 100 or more decisions every round, which puts a larger computational burden on the players, can reduce overall levels of engagement because of overwhelm, and mask the key learning outcomes that the teacher is focused on.
In a time of uncertainty and transition, HFXs simulation, The Strategy Game proved to be the ideal instructional tool for Massey’s Professional Practice Capstone. Optimized for online delivery, designed to maximize student engagement and a perfect fit for a Master’s capstone, The Strategy Game, supported by our premium support service, was the right tool at the right time.