Theories in Simulation & Student Learning Symposium

I attended a one-day education symposium in Halifax, Nova Scotia which focused on simulation learning in university curriculum. The day was separated into thirds, with the last two portions being devoted to technological simulation programs to assist in chemistry and health care courses. My interest, however, lies in the type of education simulation covered in the first portion of the day: a hands-on, immersive simulation curriculum designed to directly engage students through full-bodied role-play.

In this particular scenario, we (the participants comprised of professors, researchers, and graduate students) were each given individual roles, with secret agendas and brief backgrounds as to who we were supposed to be. I was Athenian General Thrasybulus, and I was tasked with vehemently opposing the oligarchy, and demanding that Athenians maintain the democracy and never surrender to Sparta. Other characters included Pericles, various other generals, many different workmen, we had the group of oligarchs, there were women who were omitted from decision making all together (so they put on their own play at the sides), and more. Starvation began to strike our people, so our numbers dwindled as participants died from hunger (the oligarchs controlled the food and chose not to share), and robust debate took place about whether or not we should surrender to the Spartans. Various other issues were raised at the assembly as well (including an assassination attempt)…

As I played this simulation, I recognized a number of different theories coming into play. The most prominent of them was Critical Theory. Power dynamics and oppression were at the forefront of the entire historical scene we were engaged in. As we embodied our various roles, we each had to play a role who was either in the majority or the minority, and we had to follow through with what that would entail (for example, women in Athens were relegated to second-class citizens when it came to politics, and they were not allowed to hold positions of political power or to vote). There were impassioned arguments from a few members of the Assembly, including myself as General Thraysbulus, where we attempted to coax the oligarchs who were controlling the food into sharing and distributing it to everyone… they refused. Oppression was being played-out right in front of us. After the simulation ended, we debriefed the events as a collective. We discussed this example of the power minority, those in charge of wealth and money, oppressing the disenfranchised majority.

Feminist Theory is another lens that could be applied to this simulation. Beyond the way Athenian women were cast aside, Feminist Theory could also be used to examine the format of this portion of the symposium because character roles were given to participants regardless of their gender. Each small character packet was covered with a blank page ensuring that roles would be randomly assigned. The simulation was designed so that gender would not limit female participants into automatically being assigned the smaller roles in the simulation. Another possible application of Feminist Theory would be to use it as a lens in order to review the different ways men and women played their characters, most of which were male characters. To comment on this point briefly, the male participants were generally louder than the female participants, regardless of what role they were playing (meaning, female participants playing male generals were often less boisterous than male participants playing male cobblers, or characters of lower stratification, for instance).

This two-hour simulation was a small example of what a larger simulation would look like, one that would normally be played-out over the course of several weeks. In a larger simulation, there would be many more theories present. One which comes to mind is Ecological Theory because more complicated simulations would allow the participants to delve into the social circles and connections of their characters. Emotional Intelligence Theory is another lens that could be used since some characters, particularly the persuaders, are meant to coax others into adopting their way of thinking. They could employ emotional manipulation in hopes of securing their desired outcomes.


Carnes, M. (2017). Athens besieged: Debating surrender: Reacting to the past. Simulation & Student Learning Symposium. Halifax: Dalhousie University.


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