Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Contextualizing learning with guest speakers

Though simulations may effectively replicate real-world situations and problems, they are still just that: simulations. Accordingly, finding ways to reinforce the idea that similar situations are being experienced by real practitioners in the field becomes critical. In this video, Mandell and his teaching team discuss how their negotiations course enlists guest speakers to come speak to the class. These speakers contextualize the skills and concepts students learn and enact in class and share their first-hand experiences with similar problems in the field. 

Incorporating humor to ease tensions in active learning

Well-timed, appropriate humor can provide relief in tense classroom environments. Humor can be especially critical in active learning environments, where students’ immersion can heighten anxiety and stress. In this video, Mandell, his teaching assistants, and students discuss the central role that humor plays in whole group sessions following simulations. After the intensity of the learning activity and the constructive criticism of “hot” debriefs, humor becomes a helpful tool to keep students engaged and allow them to reflect on mistakes with some levity.

Presenting simulation data to spark discussion and reflection

Failing to debrief after an intense simulation is a missed opportunity, but when simulation debriefs fail to draw on specifics from the activity, this can also short circuit discussion and reflection. Accordingly, providing fresh, relevant data from a recently conducted simulation can deepen debrief conversations and offer students concrete details to drive their reflections. In this video, Mandell and his teaching assistant share both quantitative and qualitative data from the simulation to enliven and enhance the full group debrief. Calling upon specific groups to...

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Synthesizing simulation takeaways through lecture

If simulations plunk students right in the middle of the action, what is the role of the instructor? Though instructors in simulation-based classrooms typically play the role of facilitators rather than lecturers, a strategically placed lecture gives the disciplinary expert in the room a chance to distill key conceptual takeaways from student-centered activities. This video shows how Brian Mandell commences full group sessions by delivering a mini-lecture that responds directly to what students just experienced. The analytic lecture aims to, in Mandell’s words, provide students...

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Giving peer feedback promptly with "hot" debriefs

Though simulations can be powerful learning experiences on their own, students’ learning is enhanced when instructors give them adequate time to process what they just experienced. Particularly when pressure runs high, fostering a structured space for students to debrief is critical. In Brian Mandell’s class, immediately after simulations conclude, student groups offer each member feedback about their performance in the activity. With the simulation still fresh in students’ minds, “hot” debriefs become candid spaces in which students provide one another specific, constructive support....

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Leveraging the teaching team in a simulation

The more complex a simulation becomes, the more important a well-organized teaching team is for an instructor. Having multiple teaching assistants allows lead instructors to delegate responsibilities procedurally and purposefully. In this video, Mandell’s teaching team reflects on some of the different roles they play throughout simulations. These roles range from gathering data for the whole class debriefs after simulations to coaching students individually as they negotiate. 

Preparing students for a simulation

Complex, multi-party simulations require careful preparation. With so many moving parts, students should have some understanding of what to expect and how to appropriately prepare. In this video, Mandell and his teaching team describe the materials and instructions students receive before simulations. While all groups receive general instructions which provide broad details about the case, each group member also receives his or her own confidential instructions outlining individual interests, allies, and adversaries. To prepare, students study both sets of instructions closely,...

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Building intense learning environments through simulation design

Simulations aim to replicate realistic problems from the field in a relatively controlled classroom environment. However, this is difficult since field-based problems are vulnerable to contextual changes, complicated by divergent social interests, and seldom straightforward. In this video, Brian Mandell and his teaching team discuss how they design classroom simulation experiences that mirror the real world and ratchet up pressure for students. This global negotiation simulation in particular features misaligned interests, cultural clashes, and periodic news bulletins that shift the very...

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Modifying plans to excite deeper learning

What sparks deeper learning is not always neatly predictable. Sometimes instructors must move “off-script” to harness serendipitous moments of discovery. This requires flexibility, quick decision-making, and deft plan-tweaking. In this video, Dan Levy uncovers his thought process in one such classroom moment and explains his decision to withhold a correct answer from his students. The cliffhanger serves to kindle curiosity among students, many of whom conclude the week energized and eager to deepen their understanding.

Enforcing expectations for sharp, concise comments

If efficiency and accuracy are the goal, finding a way to keep students’ contributions short becomes imperative. Doing so can grow less uncomfortable, however, once expectations are made clear about airtime. Building strong relationships with students always helps, too. In this video, to facilitate an efficient discussion, Jane Mansbridge sets explicit expectations about student contributions. In doing so, Mansbridge demonstrates that discussion and efficiency need not be mutually exclusive.

Using pre-work to honor diverse voices and structure the discussion

It’s always powerful when students’ original thinking plays an integral role in the structure and design of lessons. Making this thinking known and/or visible can foster a sense of ownership among students. In this video, Jane Mansbridge uses student reading responses to structure a tightly structured discussion and ensure that diverse perspectives are heard.

Encouraging a willingness to get it wrong

Students often pay close attention to how instructors receive wrong answers. Students who feel shut down by a professor after taking an intellectual risk may think twice before they raise their hands next time. Instructors sensitive to this possibility nurture curiosity by acknowledging the difficulty of a text, inviting students to share initial understandings, providing clear feedback, and normalizing the process of being incorrect as a crucial step on the journey toward understanding.  In this video, Jane Mansbridge describes how she channels candor and curiosity to create a...

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Getting to know your students

In a large enrollment lecture course, it may seem like there are few opportunities to get to know your students more personally. In this video, Dan Levy demonstrates how, despite a class’s large size, instructors can still take concerted steps to better know their students. Levy pushes himself to learn more about his students’ interests and backgrounds, resulting in a friendly, welcoming space where students feel comfortable participating and taking risks.

Conducting in-class polling and peer discussion

In a lecture-style course, it can be challenging to assess student understanding in real-time, and the voices of frequent participants are not always representative of the class as a whole. Just because no one asks a question, it does not mean the whole group is on the same page. To get a quick snapshot students’ understand of new material, in-class polling can be useful. In this video, Dan Levy demonstrates how he uses interactive polls to check for understanding and peer discussion to clarify misunderstandings.

Continuing the teacher-student conversation through written feedback

Invariably, not all good ideas will be heard during the course of a discussion, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be heard at all. By requiring students to write responses to weekly readings before class, instructors can take a pulse on student thinking and use students’ written ideas to plan lectures and discussions. Through timely and detailed written feedback on such responses, Jane Mansbridge establishes an ongoing dialogue with students that extends far beyond the four walls of the classroom.

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