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How Games Can Help with Learning According to Dr. David Williamson Shaffer

After every meeting, your attendees should leave more rounded than when they arrived. One great way to spur this growth is through experience. Put an associate in a manager’s shoes. Give a manager a swing at an executive task. They’ll be happy to prepare for advancement all while learning a lot about how problems are solved above their level. It will teach a valuable perspective that pays dividends over time.
 
 
In fact, the practice of placing people in simulations or games has become part of the forefront of professional education. 
 
For years, scientists have worked on using games to teach. Dr. David Williamson Shaffer, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Q Center Advisory Board member, is one such scientist. 
 
His main focus is on Epistemic Games. These games work on the theory that professional thinking is best understood “as an epistemic frame composed of knowledge, skills, values, and identity linked by a particular professional way of making decisions” (Wikipedia). Essentially, they put the game player in the driver’s seat. Want to learn how engineers think? Design a game where the player is an engineer. Want to plan a city? Give the player everything an urban planner has to decide upon. 
 
 
The games that he and his research team have developed put the player in the role of an intern tasked with making decisions based on a number of competing bits of information. For instance:
 

Land Science

 
In this game, interns are “employed” at the fictitious urban planning firm, Regional Design Associates. They are tasked with proposing a rezoning plan for the city of Lowell, MA that addresses environmental, social, and economic problems. Their proposal must take into account the concerns of different interest groups, such as housing, jobs, pollution control, wildlife protection, and waste disposal. 
 
Students, who normally learn subjects in school out of context, get to experience the difficulty of addressing competing interests and solving problems with no one “right” solution. By considering the potential pros and cons of every group’s petition, they learn that the true nature of the task goes beyond numbers to include emotions, politics, and personalities. 
 
This type of learning takes people far beyond the scope of a keynote or break-out session. It immerses the players and gives a taste of real world situations.
 
For your meetings, think about how your team might benefit from epistemic games. Get ideas of what might make a good simulation from the attendees’ supervisors. Or try something that is outside of their specialties to focus them on teamwork, leadership, or compromise. The results may surprise you.
 
To learn more about Dr. Shaffer’s work and how to incorporate it into your meetings and training, check out his book How Computer Games Help Children Learn and the Games and Professional Simulations website

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