Rong Han, Master of Arts in Educational Studies ‘20
@rongh23

Jennifer Ying-Chen Huang, Master of Arts in Educational Studies ‘20
@jenniferychuang

Raven Knudsen, Learning Experience Design Fellow, Master of Arts in Educational Studies ‘20
@rkindseyk96

Simulations are an excellent way to engage students in an interactive learning experience, but what does it take to design one? As graduate students in the Education Studies program in the University of Michigan School of Education, we set out do just that. Working with ViewPoint, a role-playing simulation tool developed at the Office of Academic Innovation with faculty collaborator professor Elisabeth R. Gerber, we designed a role-based college admissions simulation for more than  60 undergraduate students to participate in during an 80-minute class session of “Video Games and Learning” (EDUC 333), a course offered through the School of Education and taught this semester by Rebecca Quintana, PhD, Learning Experience Design Lead in the Office of Academic Innovation.

The Simulation

Knowing we would be working with undergraduate students, we opted to create a simulation around a topic they would be familiar with — college admissions — but from a different perspective than their own experience. Our goal was to have students understand the complex nature of admissions from an institutional perspective. To accomplish this, we used ViewPoint to create “Admissions Reviewer” roles for students, divided them across 10 selective institutions, had them review 10 diverse, fictional student applications, and admit the “most qualified” applicant. When it came to the institutions, we wanted to have diverse options so students could see how the admissions process worked, but also how the process can differ between institutions. As a result, we settled on using Duke University, Harvard University, Michigan State University, Purdue University, University of Michigan, and University of Texas – Austin. We provided unique institutional characteristics, including admissions rates and mission statements, on which students would base their acceptances. While students initially reviewed applications individually, they later discussed within their institutional groups which of the applicants to admit.

To make the simulation more engaging, we decided to cultivate elements that would elicit conflict. Each role was accompanied by a brief bio that explained how the individual role they assumed ended up as an “Admissions Reviewer.” With this, a few roles at each institution were assigned “secret missions,” based on biases we assigned them. Of course, this element was added purely for engagement purposes, and does not reflect the actual admissions process. For instance, one reviewer came from a disadvantaged background; therefore, he or she would have a negative bias toward highly advantaged students and convince other reviewers to admit students like himself or herself. With the added bias, our goal was to help participants feel more connected to the simulation as they tried to convince colleagues to admit applicants based on their biases. The results? As one student indicated in their post-simulation reflection:

The ability to identify with a person and be responsible for conveying their background and biases definitely gives way to engaging the rest of the simulation.

Viewpoint screenshot

In addition, we observed the “Admissions Reviewer” personas were more important for students working for institutions with lower acceptance rates. For example, participants “working” at Purdue -and able to accept six students – had no issues accommodating all assigned biases, whereas the Harvard group – who could only accept one student – had greater difficulty reaching a decision because each assigned bias wanted a different student accepted. Take this student’s feedback from our exit cards for example:

“The decisions don’t surprise me too much. They fell according to what I expected, particularly acceptance rates and expectation with academics.”

Tying it Together with ViewPoint

Our admissions simulation had many moving parts: “Admission Reviewer” roles, institutional characteristics, student applications, and a tight timeline, not to mention a collaborative group discussion. We used ViewPoint to help us manage this complexity. The features in ViewPoint that were most important to us were the ability to share resources in groups, messaging, scheduling, and disseminating resources. Prior to the day-of simulation, we allocated students to their respective institutional groups, each of which had access to a resource outlining specific institutional characteristics. Using the group function of ViewPoint, we were able to guarantee  each group could only view information relevant for their institution. In addition, we assigned role profiles by sending a job offer message through ViewPoint, allowing us to introduce participants to the simulation in a way that was immediately engaging . Furthermore, we our team served in non-participant roles as “Senior Admissions Directors” to whom “Admissions Directors” sent their team’s admissions decisions.. The main purpose of this role was to communicate directions and act as the start/end interaction for the simulation. Keeping in mind we only had a brief period to run our simulation, we used the timeline feature in ViewPoint to create a schedule outlining the description of events, expectations, and deliverables, as pictured below. This schedule was available for students to review prior to the activity and outlined expectations.

Viewpoint screenshot

QuoteA unique feature of ViewPoint is the ability to queue content, which allowed us to provide information, including applications, messages, and news feed information in a timely and controlled manner. This was especially important in the ”news” section of the dashboard, where we attempted to spark controversy within admissions teams by releasing articles related to the recent U.S. admissions scandal (which broke a few days before we ran the simulation) during their group discussions. Finally, we used the messaging system to monitor how students took into consideration institutional characteristics when individually reviewing applicants. As part of the simulation, we asked participants to send their selections, and an explanation of their decision, to a director role within ViewPoint. Using these messages, we could see which participants used institutional factors in their decision-making and how biases were used.

Overall, our simulation was a success. The admissions theme proved engaging as  participants had some familiarity with the process, but not extensive knowledge. The implementation of role identities proved to be one of the more engaging elements of the simulation, as they provided participants the opportunity to free themselves from long-held beliefs and immerse themselves in the activity.

Learn more about ViewPoint in this story from Michigan News, Students thrown into real-world scenarios with ViewPoint, an educational simulation tool.