The University of Alabama
October 5, 1978
By Torrey Van Antwerp
UA Information Services
UNIVERSITY AL. — A professor at the University of Alabama is playing games. Simulation games, that is.
A nationally recognized expert on simulation gaming and Coordinator of Experiential Learning at the Capstone’s Institute of Higher Education Research and Services, Ron Stadsklev believes simulation gaming is a viable supplement to the normal educational process.
Simulation games, such as one he has created called “Indian Reservation — or Life Today, on the Northern Plains,” are designed to simulate real-life situations most people never actually experience, such as living in a ghetto, planning a marriage at 16 or being a politician.
Some other games feature the complexities and realities of guerrilla warfare in Southeast Asia, the hardships faced by 19th century settlers and the jury selection process.
In addition, there are simulation games for increasing awareness of a policeman’s job and the negotiations involved in the Middle East Crisis.
“The key to simulation gaming is vicarious experiences,” he said. “We cannot experience all dimension of our legal world, but we can broaden the base of one’s experience through simulating different social systems of or society.”
Stadsklev has had several years of teaching experience ranging from first grade to graduate school.
“I saw the education system I was locked into and I think I saw simulation gaming and instructional gaming as a great technique that moved me out of a stifling situation,” he explained. “My interest in simulation gaming came out of a frustration that all good teachers have — inadequacy.”
Since leaving the traditional mode of teaching and branching out to more creative work, Stadsklev feels he has been involved in a more meaningful way instead of going through the “gymnastics of formal education”.
The need for social education has not been fully recognized, he noted
“Simulation games stimulate some subsystem of our social life — they are nothing but tools to get data out,” he said. “The value of real learning potential is how good you process that data.
“Eighty percent of the value is the debriefing and analyzing that follows the game experience.”
“Probably 50-60 percent of simulation game activities occur in secondary schools,” he said. But more recent growth has been in the area of post-secondary education, as well as medical schools, in-service group, management training and religious groups.
Stadsklev pointed out that simulation gaming is only one aspect of experiential learning.
“These games help people learn how to be learners instead of learneds.” he said. “A learned has only a head full of facts; a learner is able to use those facts in making good decisions.”
“We’ve got plenty of learneds, but not nearly enough learners”
“As a classroom teaching method, simulation gaming has not yet caught on enough to make significant changes,” Stadsklev said.
“No one can really give any actual figures,” he said. “But because of the system we are locked into and the inadequacy of most teachers as to what training they’ve got, it isn’t used much.
“But things are changing slowly, though, and there’s a movement from teacher-centered to student-centered education processes.”
Stadsklev has a personal collection of simulation games created by educators around the country.
He has published what he thinks is the most exhaustive guide to social education materials published to date called, “Handbook of Simulation Gaming in Social Education” (Part 1: Textbook) (Part 2: Directory)
These guidebooks obtain essays by educational gaming experts and descriptions and cross indices of 700 simulation games in social education.
It has been used as a textbook in more than 30 universities and colleges across the country, including the Capstone.
Stadsklev’s gaming is not all work. He does make time for fun.
Recently, he developed two games for commercial release, “The American Dream,” a game about free enterprise, and the “Hobbit Game,” based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary works.
Coca-Cola and Exxon are two of 20 top blue chip corporations interested in backing “The American Dream,” while Ballantine Books Company is considering the “Hobbit Game”.
Until the current educational and social systems change, Stadsklev said he will continue to fight for reform.
“I’ve got to be involved in bringing value to education.” he added. “I could never go back”