Designing Simulations

Although it’s tempting to plunge right into using CS/CR Builder to create a simulation, we’ve found that it’s best to take some time to learn a little about designing effective simulations (more about how to do that below).  Once you’re ready to start creating your own simulation, start by identifying the learning goals for your simulation–what do you want learners (new tutors, for example, in the case of simulations for writing center education) to learn from working through your simulation?  Are those goals a good match for a simulation, for learning by doing and practicing?

After identifying some specific learning goals for a simulation, it’s a good idea to write out those goals and then begin doing some prewriting or planning on paper, rather than using CS/CR right away.  Keeping your learning goals in mind, you’ll need to decide who the characters will be in the simulation, what role the learner (the new tutor) will play, what background information or context the learner needs, what situation the learner will be in, what challenges the learner will face, what kinds of decisions the learner will make, and what kind of feedback the learner will receive.

Once you’ve made some of those preliminary decisions, we’d recommend that you do some drafting and sketching (using pencil and paper or a word-processing program or PowerPoint slides).  Sketching out a sequence of stages and images is what professional film- or video-makers and interactive-media designers call “storyboarding.”  The point is to get ideas down in some visual and text form so that you can think critically about them, share them with colleagues, and revise and improve them before investing a lot of time creating pages in CS/CR with all the images and audio and video you’ll use in the actual simulation.  Then when you’re satisfied with the big picture of your simulation you can start using CS/CR Builder to create pages and questions and link them together into a draft simulation.  Once you have a draft simulation, you can do some user-testing with it–asking representative learners to work through the draft simulation giving you feedback as they work through it.

A few suggestions–It’s easy for those of us who work in writing centers to write way too much text on the pages of a web-based simulation (imagine that!).  It’s actually far better to streamline–really streamline–the setup and background information.  Learners want to start doing something fairly soon within a simulation, so it’s best to limit background and setup information to a minimum (it’s an art to learn to do that), so that learners can move quickly to decision points.   And you want learners to spend the limited time that they’ll work with any one simulation thinking and learning about a central principle in tutoring–one tied to the central learning goals you have for the simulation–rather than admiring a million background details you’ve put in the narrative or images.  User testing also makes it clear that learners are eager to click on to the next page–learners want to move quickly–so it’s best to limit how much information you put on any one page.

It’s also really important to remember that those of us who created CS/CR Builder never imagine that web-based simulations will replace other forms of tutor education–crucial activities like discussions and reading and observing in the writing center and analyzing transcripts and videos of sessions and role-playing in person and mentoring and paired tutoring.  Hardly.  Rather, we imagine simulations and critical-reading activities only *as a part of* tutor education–as homework, for example, in a tutor-education course.  New tutors would work through a simulation on their own or in pairs and then come prepared to discuss the simulation critically during the next in-person or online training session.  And we always very intentionally wanted to develop CS/CR Builder so that experienced tutors could–working in teams–develop their own simulations for new tutors to use in the future.  So developing simulations would become part of the professional development of all writing center tutors.

Our colleagues in the Engage Program in the Division of Information Technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have gathered some excellent resources about designing simulations, which we’d strongly encourage you to read.  These are available through the support wiki for CS/CR Builder–