Making time for simulation in an already packed course – a case study

Monica Novik Tennfjord
Co-founder in Hubro Education

Want to try a simulation in your course, but you just can’t find the time for it in the schedule?

You’re not alone, but some schools have found ways overcome this barrier; the Technology Management course at NTNU is a great example that you can learn from, whether you teach in secondary or higher education.

Each year 1300 students at NTNU get their first insights into management, finance and entrepreneurship through the Technology Management course. The course covers a massive curriculum and has several mandatory assignments. On top of that they make the students spend 10-15 hours in Hubro Business Simulation.

And the students don’t mind: last semester, 96% of the participants recommended that their lecturers keep using the simulation in the course.

How have they made time for Hubro in the schedule? What’s the reason for spending so much time on Hubro? And how does it fit in with the rest of the course?

We had a chat with Tim Torvatn, the architect of the course and a firm believer in the educational value of games and simulations.

Why prioritize simulations?

What is your motivation for making Hubro Business Simulation such a large part of the Technology Management course?

– We don’t just want our students to learn theoretical financial models, but to give them experience in applying them.

– This is necessary to let the students see the applications and limitations of the models. Since we can’t supply our students with real work experience we use simulations to reach this learning goal.

Tim explains that the simulation plays three important roles in the course:

– It provides variation in the teaching methods; it illustrates the relevance of the curriculum which strengthens the students’ interest for the course; and helps the students learn and practice using the skills they learn in the course.

Students using Hubro Business Simulation in the Technology Management course.

Picture: Students using Hubro Business Simulation in the Technology Management course.

For most of your students, this course is the first encounter with management and finance. What are your thoughts on using such an unorthodox teaching method with students with this little background knowledge, as opposed to more traditional methods?

– A practical approach is relevant regardless of the student’s background. What’s important is that the theoretical and practical approaches are connected within a short timeframe. We combine lectures, the simulation and exercises within a three week period.

Exercises play an important role

In addition to running and making decisions for their virtual companies in the simulations, the students receive two mandatory exercises as part of the simulation. One contains exercises in key figure analysis, while the other is an investment analysis exercise.

What role do the exercises play in the course?

– The exercises are central for letting the students make explicit connections between the experiences they have in the simulation and the theoretical models we teach in the lectures. In short, it supports the learning in a good way!

Students use the knowledge and tools they have available to make decisions in the simulation.

Picture: Students use the knowledge and tools they have available to make decisions in the simulation.

Student assistants lead the simulations

The simulations at NTNU are entirely lead by student assistants. How does this work as an alternative to having the lecturers do it?

– There’s a benefit in that they are peers as they are on the same wavelength and communicate more easily. It also lets us have more of them at the same time, making help more accessible to the students.

But there are also downsides:

– They don’t know the material as well as the lecturers. And they don’t always have a full overview of what’s been said in the lectures, so they might try explain things to the students that haven’t been taught yet.

Making time for simulations in the course

This is the #1 reason why teachers wait to use Hubro Business Simulation in their courses: there simply isn’t time. By adding the simulation, one of two things happens to the time usage in the course: either the it gets bigger, or some other activity has to go.

Your students spend between 10 and 15 hours working in Hubro. What’s your advice for other educators that struggle to find time for simulations and other less orthodox learning activities?

– Our job is not to lecture, but to enable the students to learn. Simulations are just that as they allow the students to apply the curriculum, and it’s therefore a natural activity to expose the students to.

Discussing this topic with Tim makes it obvious that he has reflected a lot on this subject. He sees other challenges than finding time:

– The real challenge is understanding the connection between how the theory is presented in the literature and by the educator, the students understanding of those aspects, and how a simulation can connect the two.

Do you have any advice for other educators that teach similar topics in a more traditional way?

– Shift your focus from teaching to enabling your students to learn. That will let you make use of your limited time with the students in new ways.

Tim is renowned at NTNU for using varied teaching methods in his courses.

– Try using your time together on discussions, group work, simulations or case studies. These are activities that require the students to interact, rather than presenting material that the students can read on their own.

Students and a teacher discussing the group’s tactics in the simulation.Picture: Students and a teacher discussing the group’s tactics in the simulation.

Tips for making time for new activities

Summing up Tim’s reflections, we have some quick tips that might make it easier to find time for a simulation in your course:

  • Less lecturing: By only reviewing key concepts in the lectures you free time for activities where you can interact more with your students. What you don’t teach in class the students can read on their own or learn about through video lectures.
  • Expanding the course: Most students don’t mind that the simulation is a little extra work as long as it engages them and is relevant for the exams. [This is primarily doable in higher education]
  • Outsourcing: you don’t have to do everything yourself. Student assistants or other educators might be able to lead the simulation for you.
  • Connecting lectures and simulation: scheduling the simulation in between lectures so that your students can apply what they just recently learned in class will help them bridge theory and practice.

Do you have feedback or ideas? Let us know in the comments below or reach out to us!

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