Sivasailam "Thiagi" Thiagarajan
Workshops by Thiagi
4423 East Trailridge Road
Bloomington, IN 47408-9633
Telephone: (812) 332-1478
FAX: (812) 332-5701
An action learning device is a tool for physical activity. The device can be used to set up a challenge arena or a practice field ("an executive sandbox"). Different action learning devices are available, from tabletop arrangements of strings and pulleys, to elaborate buildings with sheer vertical walls for climbing and rappelling.
The Interel Electric Maze is an action learning device. To use it, the facilitator unrolls a 6' x 8' carpet divided into 48 squares. Each square in this carpet has a pressure-sensitive switch. If you step on an activated square, an alarm sounds. In an activity called 24 MINUTES, your group is asked to walk across the carpet from one end to the other. This can be done through a single, crooked path. Only one person may walk or stand on the maze at a time. You must move one square at a time, horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. If the alarm sounds, you must backtrack, step off the maze, and let the next person try. Your group has a total of 24 minutes to complete the task. If any group member wants to talk, no one may be on the maze. Once the group begins to talk, it must spend a minimum of 3 minutes before anyone may step back on the maze.
The activity usually begins in confusion, continues in excitement, and ends in elation. During the debriefing, you and the other players share a variety of insights related to communication, planning, leadership, and teamwork.
Action learning devices result in intensive, accelerated learning. They appeal to the players' physical, kinesthetic intelligence.
Sometimes an elaborate setup is required. Most players feel excited and enthusiastic, but don't really understand what they are learning. It takes a skilled facilitator to debrief the players. Not everybody likes physical activities.
Cash games are simulation games that feature real cash prizes. They are not games of chance. Nor do they teach accounting procedures or economic concepts. Rather, cash games explore interpersonal skills (such as negotiating and trust building) and concepts (such as cooperation and equity).
ME AND MY TEAM is a cash game. The facilitator divides the players into teams of five. Each player receives 100 points. As a player, you may keep all the points for yourself, give all 100 points to the team, or do anything in between. The winner is the player with the highest personal score who is also a member of the team with the highest team score. You have a dilemma: If you give a lot of points to the team, you will end up losing because your personal score is low. On the other hand, if you keep a lot of points to yourself, you will still lose because your team won't have the highest team score. And this is just the beginning. During the fourth round of this simulation, you cannot talk to your teammates, and the winner will be given a (real) $50 cash prize in secret. The players' behaviors provide rich data to explore individual vs. group needs, public statements vs. private actions, and monetary payoffs vs. spiritual fulfillment.
Cash prizes provide an effective way of reflecting real-world rewards and recognition. They attract and maintain the players' attention.
Some people are squeamish about the use of cash in a training activity. Cash payments may also violate cultural norms and religious principles. In some cases, the simulation game may become too intense to permit reflective learning.
A computer game shell is a template for a computer game. You can use any of several software packages with different shells to design and develop your own games. The games are addictive and they sugar-coat drill practice to increase the player's fluency.
HANGMAN is a game created with a computer game shell. The screen displays a question on a technical topic. You try to guess the right answer, one letter at a time. If you guess a correct letter, all occurrences of that letter appear in the item box. If you make an error, you see a part of a body added to a graphic representation of a gallows. When you type in the complete answer, your score increases. However, if you are completely "hanged," or if you run out of time, the correct answer appears on screen and your score remains stagnant. As you move from one level to the next, the computer can become stricter, insisting that you spell the answer correctly, one letter at a time. You try to answer as many questions as possible to receive a high score and get inducted to the Hall of Fame screen display.
You can create your own HANGMAN games without having to do any programming. You use a word processor to type a game file with the questions and the answers. With a few clicks of the mouse, your computer game is ready to play.
You can create computer games without learning how to program. The participants can improve their mastery of the skills at their own pace in a highly-motivating setting.
Computer game shells encourage rote learning and meaningless repetition. They require players to have computer equipment and skills.
A framegame is an activity that is deliberately designed to permit the easy unloading of old content and the insertion of new content. It is a generic game template that permits the instant design of new games.
CREATIVE ENVELOPES is a framegame. The facilitator divides the players into teams, and each team receives an envelope with a unique problem written on its face. Team members brainstorm ideas for solving this problem, write the ideas on an index card, and place the card inside the envelope. After two minutes, the envelopes are passed, unsealed, to the next team. The teams now repeat the brainstorming and card-writing procedure with the new problem. After a few more rounds, the teams comparatively evaluate the response cards inside the envelope they receive. They distribute 100 points to indicate each card's relative merit. At the end of the game, each team reads the ideas on the card that received the highest score.
You can design your own version of CREATIVE ENVELOPES with problem statements of local importance. You can also take the game procedure (the frame) and apply it to a variety of objectives. For example, you can specify customer complaints on the envelopes and require the players to brainstorm strategies for handling them. Or you can write controversial ideas on the envelopes and ask the players to write supporting and attacking arguments on the cards. Or you can present complex technical concepts on the envelopes and ask the players to draw visual analogies on the cards. Or ....
You can use field-tested framegames to rapidly design activities that suit your needs. You can select highly-motivating frames to enliven dull topics.
Because it is easy, you might be tempted to create and use inappropriate games. For example, you might try to use JEOPARDY® as a framegame for teaching the Heimlich maneuver. (There are other, more appropriate framegames for teaching motor skills.)
A puzzle is a task that challenges the solver's ingenuity. An instructional puzzle incorporates content that is to be previewed, reviewed, tested, remediated, or enriched. Crossword puzzles, cryptograms, and anagrams are some puzzle formats that can be used for instructional purposes.
CRYPTIC CLUSTER is an instructional puzzle format. You just finished a session on brain-based learning. Instead of a final test, you are given a CRYPTIC CLUSTER. This is a list of 10 items that all belong to the same category (skills and concepts associated with the right hemisphere of your brain). However, the items are enciphered using a simple letter substitution system. Each letter in the items is consistently replaced by some other letter of the alphabet. For example, the first item is FVFIXEGBJ. Using your knowledge of the English language, and recalling relevant information, you decode this item as ANALOGIES. You then write "A" above every "F" that appears further down the list, "N" above every "V", and so on. Eventually, you decode all 10 items.
Instructional puzzles are highly motivating. They are self-reinforcing activities because the learners feel excited when the puzzle is solved. Instructional puzzles can be used in a solitaire fashion or with teams. They can be used with a variety of content.
Puzzles tend to reinforce rote learning. Some types of puzzles are difficult to construct. Instructional puzzles are unsuitable for interpersonal and psychomotor skills.
An interactive lecture is a presentation that encourages (and sometimes requires) the learners to interact with the content, with each other, and with the presenter. Some interactive lectures feature teamwork and sharing of ideas. Other interactive lectures incorporate game activities at different intervals.
BINGO LECTURE is an interactive lecture format. You are attending a lecture on the Java programming language. You anticipate a dull, dry presentation. However, the lecturer begins by handing out BINGO cards to everybody. The squares on the card contain technical terms. You notice that the terms on your card are arranged differently from those on your neighbor's card. The lecturer stops her presentation after about 10 minutes. She asks a question and instructs you to scan your BINGO card for the answer. You are to place a small check mark next to the answer if it is on your card. After a suitable pause, the lecturer gives the correct answer. If your checkmark is on the correct answer, you replace it with a big, bold X. The lecturer asks some more short-answer questions and repeats the activity before continuing with her presentation. During the next game interlude, you succeed in marking five squares in a straight line. You shout "Bingo!" The lecturer congratulates you and asks you to continue playing so that she can determine who has the most marked squares at the end of the session.
The interactive lecture combines the control and efficiency of a lecture with the motivation and playfulness of a game. The learners are motivated to pay attention to the presentation. The instructor can create an interactive lecture without too much difficulty.
Interactive lectures require more time to "cover" the same content. Too much excitement may distract the learners from the instructional content.
A simulation game is a game in which the procedures and play materials reflect real-world processes and products. A metaphorical simulation game reflects a few selected real-world elements in an abstract, simplified fashion.
BARNGA is a metaphorical simulation game. You are attending a workshop on cross-cultural communications. The facilitator begins the session with a card game as an icebreaker. She divides the players into groups of four. Each group reviews a handout to learn a card game called FIVE TRICKS. After a few practice rounds, the players turn in their handouts and play silently. At the end of 3 minutes, the facilitator announces a tournament with a "no-communications" rule. She sends the winning partners at each table to the next table. Shortly after you begin playing the tournament round, you notice that your opponents are cheating. At first, you think that they may be making mistakes. However, because of the no-communications rule, all you can do is grunt, groan, and gesture wildly. Your opponents also appear to be confused. Only later do you realize that each table learned to play the game under slightly different rules.
High-fidelity simulation games are excellent for teaching step-by-step procedures, such as landing a fighter on the deck of an aircraft carrier. In contrast, metaphorical simulation games are effective in teaching principles and the application of new insights to a variety of situations. Metaphorical simulations are inexpensive and brief. Because the play materials and procedures are very different from their real-world analogues, the players do not get sidetracked into trivial details.
Players have difficulty transferring and applying the insights from the game to their workplace. A skilled facilitator is needed to debrief the players.
A read.me game is a game that is used to reinforce a reading assignment. Read.me games combine the effectiveness of handouts and documents with the motivation of games. Players begin by completing a reading assignment before participating in a game that uses peer support (and peer pressure) to encourage transfer and application of what they read.
EACH TEACH is a read.me game. In a workshop on total quality management, the facilitator gives a demonstration of drawing and using a Pareto chart. He then distributes a job aid to each participant. You notice that your job aid explains how to construct a cumulative table from raw data, while your neighbor's job aid explains how to construct a bar graph from a cumulative table. After you have mastered your job aid and completed a practice exercise, the facilitator organizes everyone into teams. In your team (as in all other teams), each member has mastered a different step of the procedure for drawing a Pareto chart. Your team works through a practical exercise, each member contributing to the joint effort. After completing the first exercise, you proceed to work on more exercises. In the process, you learn from the other team members and teach them the step that you had mastered.
Read.me games add interactivity to independent study and excitement to dull prose. Different types of read.me games can be used for achieving different types of instructional objectives.
Read.me games may emphasize the recall of meaningless facts. Instructors may use these games to cover up sloppy writing.
Copyright © 1999. Workshops
by Thiagi, Inc. All rights reserved
Revised: October 1, 1999