Escaping “Boring as Hell” Lectures with Creative Problem-Solving Simulations

Post by Capsim
August 19, 2021
Escaping “Boring as Hell” Lectures with Creative Problem-Solving Simulations

Have you ever sat in a lecture that you wanted to escape?

“I learned as a teacher pretty quickly that the classic professor-in-front-of-the-room-talking-at-the-students-for-two-hours was draining on me and boring as hell to them,” said Dr. Bernie Farkas, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Information and Technology Management at the University of Tampa.

“Giving students more hands-on experience is way better than reading a textbook, a case study, or even listening to my war stories," he said. That’s significant coming from someone with over 40 years of experience in programming.

Dr. Farkas typically has 30 students in his classroom, only two of whom are Information Technology majors. The remaining 28 pairs of eyes who look at him “don’t want to be there, which makes teaching fun,” Dr. Farkas said with a chuckle. He only keeps students’ gazes because they’re sitting in on a required course.

The challenge? Getting his students comfortable to work with technology and engaged in his course’s content.

Engaging Students by Incorporating Non-Traditional Learning Tools: Simulations

Dr. Farkas, author of CapsimInbox: Business Information Systems, built a microsimulation to expose his students to technology. But he didn't want students to memorize and navigate a technological tool that will inevitably become outdated.

Instead, he challenges his students to think critically and practice crucial soft skills he knows will endure long after graduation.

The CapsimInbox Authoring Platform enables users to bring their real-world experiences to life. Dr. Farkas dove one step past storytelling in his forty years in the programming industry. He took to the keyboard and mouse to create a simulation for his students to experience the challenging choices they’ll encounter after graduation. 

Similar to the decisions he faced as a programmer--with some twists.

The inbox simulation immerses students in the role of a store manager at a traditional, community-based household goods retailer. It’s up to them to make key decisions related to technology’s role in the business while adhering to company policies and the Code of Ethics.

In our increasingly automated world, it isn’t surprising that participants in his simulation face questions like, should we put in a robot concierge that can guide customers through the store and help them find what they’re looking for? 

Surely they can. But participants have to weigh in other considerations, like the cost. And the fact that if they integrate an expensive solution, they likely won’t be able to incorporate other necessary tools to improve the customer experience. 

Dr. Farkas also pitches an innovative solution like the adoption of smart labels and overarching privacy concerns. Because I know where you are in the store, could I recommend ads to appear on your phone? Or can I recommend other nearby products you might be interested in? 

“Building the simulation was more about, how do I work with the technology, rather than about technology. As a result, the skills assessed in the simulation became standard business skills: a combination of: How do I communicate? How do I get to a decision? How do I empathize?” 

Suddenly, even his non-Information Technology students became captivated with the hands-on learning experience. 

As Dr. Farkas proves with the robot, targeted ads, and smart labels, technology constantly changes. But the undeniable need for critical thinking remains the same. 

After a security breach crisis in the second half of the simulation, the participants face the fallout of the unintended consequences. Learners take responsibility for an appropriate business response. For example, should the store manager provide customers with a discount coupon or a credit for identity protection service? Is any amount of money a fair reparation for the damage done? 

“There’s no right answer in CapsimInbox. It’s about the experience and how participants think their way through it,” Dr. Farkas said. 

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Critical Thinking Remains Relevant Long After a Tool Becomes Obsolete

“Many tools are obsolete by the time students graduate,” Dr. Farkas began. “It’s more about teaching students how to think. The tools themselves may change, but the ability to make decisions is key.”

Dr. Farkas doesn’t think tests are the most significant learning determinant, either. “They prove we can make students nervous,” Dr. Farkas said. He has a different theory when it comes to instructing. 

“It's not; write this paper, turn in Thursday, and you'll get a grade next Thursday, and we move on to the next paper,” he began. “It's; do your assignment, turn it in on Thursday, get a grade, and redo the assignment, send it in, and you'll get another grade.”

He prefers his students to continue working through a problem and gaining knowledge until they genuinely master it than to worry about the grade. 

“The grade is the carrot to keep them going,” he said. “Similar to merit badges in Boy Scouts of America.” 

Tying in the Soft Skills You’ve Acquired and Sharing them with your Students

“Being an Eagle Scout, the birth of my three sons, and earning my Master’s Degree and my Ph.D. are my signposts in life,” Dr. Bernie Farkas said.

Capsim_Blog_Creator-Spotlight_Farkas-Newspaper

So what do becoming an Eagle Scout and a simulation-based learning experience have in common? 

Both experiences provide leadership development opportunities crucial to success beyond graduation. That’s important, considering the soft skills gap continues to widen in a higher-education system that ill-equips graduates for the workforce. 

“Simulations are a tool in that safety survival kit--to engage students in different ways,” Dr. Farkas said.

Dr. Farkas' years as an Eagle Scout contribute to his instruction in the classroom and how he leads his life. The CapsimInbox Authoring Platform enables users to integrate their decades of expertise in the industry and their passions--whether it’s Eagle Scouts, MLB, or food trucks-- to bring authentic and engaging experiences to life in the classroom. 

“Simulations are the only way you can give students the experience to nurture skills necessary to travel the course in a safe manner,” Dr. Farkas began. “Just like Captain Sully learned how to fly through a flock of geese and land safely in the middle of the Hudson River. If he had to do that for the first time, we wouldn’t be celebrating the Captain’s success. We’d be mourning the disaster. But because of simulations, he had enough real-life experience that he was capable of navigating through the real challenge when it came along. CapsimInbox is uniquely positioned to provide real-world training to prepare participants with the skills they need to overcome challenges.”

Bring your Experiences to Life Today

Tired of vying for your student's attention in the classroom? So was Dr. Farkas until he realized the power of simulations. Start building in the code-free CapsimInbox Authoring Platform today to bring your expertise and passion to life for your students.

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