Online Policy Simulation
From Tom Foster on July 5th, 2019
Simulation is used frequently in ‘hard sciences’ such as medicine to learn about concepts and ways of working that are better appreciated through experiential learning and thus difficult to convey and explain in lectures. Policy is a complex topic to teach because it involves understanding political decision-making, power relationships between different stakeholders and the interpretation of evidence.
Simulations and role plays provide an opportunity for students to learn about these topics together. We run a policy module for our online distance learning students, which forms part of the University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Research’s MPH online and MSc International Health Management and Leadership programmes.
This year we decided to experiment with a policy simulation for this online module, which had 9 students. The scenario we gave students was to develop a new nutrition policy initiative in Ghana, West Africa. Each student was assigned a role of a specific policy actor in Ghana. Students were asked to develop a written position statement to be shared on a Blackboard discussion forum, which summarised their actor’s views on the new nutrition policy initiative - this involved them researching stakeholders, relationships and evidence to support particular interventions in Ghana. Students then took part in a ‘live’ role play meeting organised via Blackboard Collaborate to simulate a discussion and the type of negotiations that might happen when different stakeholders interact to develop policy.
Students who could not participate in the live session were still able to participate by recording a video about their actor’s views, which was shared during the live meeting and therefore became part of the discussion. We followed the live meeting up by recording a reflective conversation together as tutors on the module, to draw together the learning from the experience. It was challenging to get people located in different continents and time zones to engage in a simulation exercise (we have students from Europe, North America, Australia and Asia).
Nevertheless, it was a great engaged learning experience about the ‘real’ complexities and politics of policy-making. Importantly, it also afforded the distance learning students with an opportunity to develop relationships with one another (and have some fun!). Students that produced the short videos also developed this skill and for those viewing them, it was a valuable opportunity to see how useful this type of material can be to share ideas.