One of the world’s first known flight simulators was crafted more than 100 years ago and was essential for sending today’s pilots to the sky. Simulations help pilots learn by doing, developing and practicing key skills that can eventually be used in a real situation. And simulations have many applications beyond the cockpit.

“Simulations are starting to get widely adopted by leading universities,” said Vasant Sivaraman, professor of strategy and finance at S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research. “This is the right time to deepen skill-based pedagogy in business courses.”

SPJIMR, one of India’s top management schools, has been using simulations in its curriculum for more than two decades because of the engagement and effectiveness they offer to students. “Simulations are powerful tools for delivering and reinforcing student learning, set in seemingly real-world environments,” Sivaraman explained. “They are simple to set up and extremely user-friendly as teaching tools.”

SPJIMR and the Broad College have enjoyed a partnership for nearly 10 years, collaborating to expand and share educational opportunities. “Every year, MBA students from SPJIMR visit MSU in the summer for three to four weeks and take courses in supply chain and operations,” Sivaraman said. The Broad College has also offered executive education programs with SPJIMR in India.

In a new partnership development during the fall 2019 semester, Sivaraman visited MSU’s campus and brought SPJIMR’s knowledge of simulation-based learning to take Broad College education to new heights.

Getting faculty on board

Sivaraman hosted a series of three workshops with content support from Harvard Business Publishing. The workshops were customized for Broad College faculty to learn how to integrate simulations into the classroom. Topics included setting up a class for using simulations, group vs. individual simulations and designing classroom teaching plans.

The first two workshops, held on Sept. 13 and Oct. 25, were centered on the student experience, showing what it would be like for a student in a class where simulations are used. “With simulations in a business course, students have the opportunity to run their own business and make decisions based on the simulated market,” Sivaraman explained. “This is particularly engaging because of the competitive environment; emotions become involved, results and feedback happen instantly and each simulation is distinct for each student or team.”

The final workshop, on Nov. 1, was longer and covered the instructor viewpoint, diving into what faculty need to do to use simulations successfully.

Adrian Choo, assistant professor of supply chain management, attended both workshop phases and said the sessions passed quickly; they were “eye-opening and insightful in showing the use of simulation not only from an educator perspective but also from a student perspective.”

The workshops were a new initiative launched through the Broad College’s Learning Technology and Development Instructional Support Series. “We are always looking for ways to support instructors in the Broad College in their efforts to provide active and engaging learning environments,” Jeremy Van Hof, director of learning technology and development, said. “Teaching with simulations takes effort and skill on behalf of the teacher, which is why we crafted these workshops in a sequential fashion.”

A perk of the workshop series was that participants were provided free access to different Harvard Business Publishing simulations to have a hands-on experience. “The interactive sessions were a platform for faculty members to exchange views on an engaging instruction tool,” Sivaraman said.

Until now, Sivaraman and SPJIMR had been working with Harvard to offer these exclusive workshops in India, serving about 200 faculty members from various business schools over the past three years.

“Business simulations are increasingly popular as a classroom tool to both motivate learning and encourage students to be more active learners,” Vivek Chachra, country manager Harvard Business Publishing India, said. “We at Harvard Business Publishing are delighted to support the efforts taken by SPJIMR and the Broad College to help its faculty use this tool effectively.”

Pushkar Kelkar, director of higher education for Harvard Business Publishing India and Middle East, added, “Simulation adoption has been growing globally amongst business management programs/courses over the last two to three years. Simulations provide students a valuable opportunity to practice decision making and also generates considerable engagement between them. The teaching with simulation workshops offered by SPJIMR and the Broad College is an excellent initiative to enable faculty to use simulations seamlessly.”

Elevating our partnership

During his time at MSU, Sivaraman was also able to accomplish goals beyond the workshops. “My mission in coming here was to host the workshops, but also have some immersion in MSU as a research university,” he said.

Sivaraman sat in on a range of classes from undergrad to MBA, observing classroom dynamics and instructor styles. He attended many research seminars, job talks, brown bags and other presentations. He was even invited to participate in a panel discussion linked to the Donald J. Bowersox Undergraduate Supply Chain Challenge at the James B. Henry Center for Executive Development on Oct. 26, with faculty members from schools across the United States in attendance.

Sivaraman also spent time with some of Broad’s entrepreneurship leaders to explore the possibility of using simulations for specific curriculum around innovation. “I connected with Ken Szymusiak and his team … I put together an initial course outline for him to be possibly implemented in the future,” Sivaraman said. In addition, he noted how The School of Hospitality Business was keen to apply simulations to its curriculum in a possible refreshment of courses.

“This experience was wonderful in many ways,” Sivaraman said. “The conversations were rich, and I hope the [Broad College] gets to use simulations in their upcoming courses for effective teaching and learning.”

Van Hof added, “As teachers begin to implement simulations into their classes, we expect student satisfaction and learning outcomes to rise.”

With an eye to the future, the Broad College and SPJIMR are exploring more ways to elevate our educational partnership by hosting more events and faculty-led workshops and perhaps initiating a faculty exchange program.

“SPJIMR has done exchange programs with schools in Europe but not really in the U.S.,” Sivaraman explained. “Launching a faculty exchange would be another way to share our expertise with one another and lend the strengths of various individuals to each other’s programs in new ways.”