Classroom Stories & Tips
How I Build Student Excitement for the Simulation

For the last eight years, Associate Professor Marne Arthaud-Day has used Capsim to teach Strategic Management to her MBA students at Kansas State University.

Over that time, she's learned that while some students are excited to depart from traditional teaching approaches, others can be nervous about the unknowns of competing in a simulated environment.

Learn how Marne has evolved her instruction to allay anxieties, build excitement, and improve student learning.

Video Transcript

"My name is Marne Arthaud-Day. I'm an associate professor at Kansas State University, where I teach strategy and international business. I have been using the Capsim Capstone simulation for about eight years now as part of my MBA classes. I teach two different sections of MBA strategy, the first one is the traditional in-class where we meet together every week, and the other one is part of our professional MBA program, where it's completely online, and we run everything through a weekly Zoom meeting and correspondence that we have offline.

One thing that I do now that I wish I had known when I first started teaching Capstone is not just teaching the simulation but teaching to the students who are doing the simulation. By that, I mean, I discovered that there are some students who are very ready to depart from the traditional book lecture discussion cases, case analysis, and really dive in. For them, this is an exciting opportunity. They look forward to it; they get to figure out, run things for themselves, and they speak that data language.

There is another group of students, however, where you take them out of the more traditional classroom setting, and it's a little bit more nerve-wracking for them. Because they know how the other process works, but they don't know what the Sim is. They don't know exactly what it's about. There's a lot to read; there's a lot to digest. And then you add to it the fact that not only do they have to deal with team members – and most faculty eventually figured out that teams are both one of the best parts of business education and also sometimes the bane of our existence – they can work really well or they can be really problematic. So, you add that stress of a student worrying about how am I going to work with a team and still manage and get the grade that I want. But you put in the uncontrolled element of the fact that this is a competitive setting, and we are competing against other teams, and I don't know what those other teams are doing.

What I do now is I teach a lot more intentionally, trying to build that excitement for everybody and then allay the anxieties for those for whom this is not their natural element. One of the ways that I have adapted the way that I teach the simulation is to focus a bit more on how I present it upfront and how I sell it to the students.

So, there are two elements to that. The first is how does it fit into the context of the course? I tell them that strategic management is a process we learn by doing. So, we will start by getting familiar with the process in general. Then we'll dive deeper into the theory and talk about how it's played out in different cases – real-life examples – and give students a chance to sort of get their feet wet with decision-making, all to prepare them for the fact that the last third of the class we put this simulation into place. Now, they are actually in charge of their firms; they get to make decisions, and they get to see the financial consequences of those decisions. I think it helps for them to see the progression of the top big-picture view of the strategic management process – these are the different components of the strategic management process, the theory pieces, and the levels of strategy, and this is how it actually works. Because I think a lot of strategy professors find that probably the hardest aspect of strategy to teach is that implementation piece. Because we can talk about the fact that it ties into financial results; we can talk about the fact that the different components of the business need to be communicating and not siloed, that our strategy needs to be mutually reinforcing in terms of what we're doing with marketing. But that implementation piece really comes to the forefront when you do the simulation.

The other aspect, in terms of not just setting it up as an educational experience, is specifically managing anxiety that students might have both upfront and along the way. So, upfront, I address the grading component. MBAs can be kind of type A, super worried about their grades, their performance, how this is going to affect their trajectory in their program and their career. To encourage engaging in it, not being afraid of it, and going in and experimenting in a safe place when their careers aren't on the line and their salaries aren't on the line and their company's profitabilities aren't really on the line.

What I do then is I set it up intentionally in terms of a grading policy to give credit where credit is due for the people who dive in and do the hard work and do the learning and take off and have phenomenal company performances. So, they get rewarded. But at the same time, as long as you're doing the work and you're putting the time in, you can still get a good grade. Because 20% of the overall grade is, can you come back at the end of the simulation, regardless of how you did, and articulate that you understood what happened and you can use those lessons to then formulate a new or a better strategy moving forward? Using those lessons to then take the firm where it needs to go.

So, in terms of grade breakdown, usually, this simulation is 30 to 35% of my overall course grade. Out of that, 100 points or 10% is your actual performance. But you also get 25 points for just being a good team member and doing your peer evaluation. You get another 25 points for doing the training. And it's a way of forcing them in, and again, experience tends to reduce the anxiety. Plus, it's a bonus 50 points that are really easy to get. The other 20% then is your ability to account for what happened and why and to convince a board of directors, regardless of success or failures in the past, you're in a firm place and you have the most intimate knowledge of your firm and can lead it successfully moving forward.

To summarize, one of the ways that I have changed my approach to teaching and using the Capstone simulation is to make sure that I am teeing it up and setting the context with the learner in mind. When I do this, I find that student anxiety levels drop; they're more willing to engage in the experience. We have more fun as a class; we laugh about some of the outcomes. And ultimately, that engagement leads to higher learning. By the time I'm reading reports at the end of the simulation run, all of those little pieces have finally come together for the students, and it's like these light bulbs go off as to why what strategy is, what it takes, the amount of work it takes to implement one successfully, and the fact that they are now capable of doing this and have that confidence in their own decision-making ability."