Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where Kramer plays a gonorrhea patient at a medical school? Simulations have been accepted practice in the training of nurses and physicians for many decades, and the use is common practice throughout the health sciences (Tyerman et al., 2016). If simulations have practical application and a proven track record in the preparation of practitioners in the health professions, why would they not have application in all professional preparation programs? For example, in an MBA program would it be beneficial to use simulations to provide practice in conducting a hiring interview? Could simulations be used in a program preparing advertising majors to make pitches to prospective clients using simulations? Regardless of the field, don’t we want our graduates to be able to apply the concepts taught in our courses to authentic and practical work-related situations? Simulations are one way of accomplishing this.
In the past, medical schools hired actors to portray patients with whom medical or nursing students could practice bedside manners. Some institutions that had medical schools and theater programs, such as New York University, used theater students to portray patients. Other programs, such as social work, used role play as a method of practicing interview skills. Today there are commercial simulation products and even artificial intelligence (AI) applications available for preparation programs to use. Could simulations reinforce your curriculum, add to the pedagogical practices your faculty use, and enhance your program?
If you believe that the use of simulations as a pedagogical technique might be something you want to implement in your program, consider the following:
I offer the following as an example of how a school leadership program adopted simulations as an enhancement to the curriculum across a 36-credit program.
An adjunct faculty member used a commercial source of simulations in her work with a local school district. She brought this resource to the program’s attention. We saw that the use of simulations provided the opportunity for our degree candidates to experience “real-life” situations in a virtual setting. We recognized simulations as a supplement and an enhancement to the case-based learning practices embedded throughout our program.
The faculty and program leadership contacted the provider of the simulations to explore how we could use them in our program. We found that the simulations aligned with the Professional Standards for Education Leaders 2015 (PSEL) upon which our program is developed. We determined that there were an ample number of simulations available to allow us to embed them in each of the program’s 12 courses. Since the program, save for the two internship courses, is delivered in an asynchronous format where we hold only two live but virtual sessions via Zoom each semester, we needed the candidates to be able to complete the simulations either independently or during the faculty directed sessions. The simulations selected allowed for this.
In fall 2019, after the faculty received professional development in the effective use of simulations, faculty met to review the available simulations and to align them with the course content. We wanted to ensure that each simulation would be used only in a specifically designated courses. Faculty were allowed to determine how best to use the simulation in their courses. The program, however, determined that they would be used in every course. We reserved several of the simulations for use in the internship courses. This proved to a fortuitous decision as, when the pandemic struck and leadership interns were unable to enter the schools, New York State allowed for alternative means of completing the internship. Simulations became a means for interns to complete some of the mandated internship hours.
After several semesters of use, we surveyed candidates regarding their experience with the simulations. The survey asked them to rank four items as either strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the statement. We surveyed 50 candidates and received 29 responses.
The survey items and the results are as follows:
Some candidates chose to provide personal reflections about their experience with the simulations. A sample of the feedback follows:
How did the faculty members feel about the efficacy of the use of simulations?
The survey results and the faculty feedback indicate the value of the simulations as a pedagogical strategy that enhances our courses and prepares our candidates to meet the challenges that school leaders face today. It is reasonable to expect that using simulations would have the same positive impact on students preparing for any profession. Simulation-based education gives students the opportunity to practice learned skills and apply theory in real-life situations.
National Policy Board for Educational Administration. (2015). Professional standards for educational leaders. https://www.npbea.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Professional-Standards-for-Educational-Leaders_2015.pdf
Tyerman, J., Luctkar-Flude, M., Graham, L, Coffey, S., & Olsen-Lynch, E. (2016). Pre-simulation preparation and briefing practices for healthcare professionals and students: A systematic review protocol. JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports, 14(8), 80–89. https://doi.org/10.11124/JBISRIR-2016-003055
Alan Sebel, EdD, is an associate professor of school leadership and administration in the Graduate School of Education at Touro College in New York City. Before joining Touro he was a deputy assistant superintendent in the New York City Public Schools.