Saturday, 4 September 2004

The Wisdom in Keeping fixed term cycles

One of my clients ran an online role play simulation for marketing, featuring the marketing of online casino. During one of the regular visits of the Pearson editor with academics, this editor was interested in his role play and she was also made aware that it was driven by an online role play platform. My name was given to the editor for further investigation. After delays of weeks, we finally arranged a meeting.

I have done a little research before I went into the meeting and as such, I have no expectation of convincing Pearson to include Fablusi in any of their textbooks in the near future. Anyway, I thought planting a seed with a big publisher like Pearson is worth the time (although I should really put my time in the v2 work!).

Her editor-in-charge attended the meeting too. That was good! I also asked Roni to come along. We have a good exchange of our views.

I fully understand that as a business, Pearson is market driven. The editor-in-charge was frank in acknowledging that there is no request from authors or academic to have support in online role play. That’s exactly right too!

This brings me to the question of marketing Fablusi. I have been working and promoting Fablusi for over 5 years. So far, everyone who had used online role play never regretted the commitment and effort put in. The students loved it. Many of my clients became evangelists for Fablusi. But still, the words are spreading slowly and there is logistic problem to overcome. One of the hurdles is how to fit a rewarding online role play simulation to the straight-jacket semesters time slots in higher education.

One of the powers of online role play is asynchronicity - allowing both flexibility AND opportunity for players to reflect, research and discuss for the each move. We suggest roles to be played by groups. Not only the workload is reduced, the need for the group to act in unison is a great way to force the players to articulate the reasoning behind each action the role takes. However, this also means that we should allow time for the role play simulation to really develop.

It usually takes about a week for the group to master and be comfortable with a role. If we require the players to log in once a day during a two-week play cycle , there would be about 14 “interactions”. If we consider each interaction as a move in a game of chess, a limited 14- move chess game is hardly interesting. It will still be at the open stage of the game! One way to overcome this is to launch the simulation into the “mid-game” situation by using episodes. Once the players are familiar with the roles, we release “kick-start” episodes which describe the latest situation of the role play simulation and set the game into “mid-game” stage. At this point, there are conflicts, crisis, emergency and so on. I describe this as “giving the roles compelling reason(s) to response”. We also run parallel inter-related threads throughout the simulation. At each log-in, the players are confronted with a number of issues – not one! But, we also limit the number of “sim-mail” a role can send in a day. This will force the players to prioritize their actions and make moderating more manageable. Nevertheless, 2 weeks would be required as a minimium! We may also need another session for debriefing and so on.

With this 3-week requirement, it is obviously quite difficult to fit into a 10-week term-cycle!

In the industrial era, universities are gate-keepers, acting as a sorting mechanism for “people quality”. Among the variables “scope of material”, “mastery of material” and “time of instruction”, education institutions choose to keep “time of instruction” and “scope of material” constant and let “mastery of material” depend on other elements of the learners. This is OK in an industrial era where the education institutions is to sort people.

I believe that in the future repetitive works are going to be replaced by automated processes. Most jobs will be towards handling "exceptions" - those that the automated process cannot handle. I believe this will require a different type of training/education. What is this “different type of education” is something I don’t know and for another discussion. Intuitively, I believe that the wisdom of keeping “time of instruction” to be constant and let “mastery” to vary has almost reached its "used-by" time. We should seriously start investigating new ways of educating our next generation.

Until then, Pearson will not call us back for further discussion in using online role play simulation in their textbooks.

But that day will come. And when it comes, it will appear to come so quickly that we hardly notice the change.

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