Climbing Everest in the Classroom with Simulation-Based Learning


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under a CC license.

In my time here at the College, I have been dabbling in a few of the Mason School of Business MBA classes that are available. It was there that I had my first experience with the game simulation-based learning tool known as Everest; developed and distributed by Forio. The experience was exciting, meaningful, and extremely powerful in delivery.

Learning with the Mount Everest Simulation

A screenshot of the beginning of the Everest simulation.

A screenshot of the beginning of the Everest simulation.

Anyone who has seen the latest Star Trek movie reboots might remember the scene where rookie, soon-to-be captain James T. Kirk beats an odds-stacked flight simulation in his training at Star Fleet academy. The simulation was designed to teach potential officers how to react in extreme situations with given information, and with urgency in mind. Well, someone developed that type of simulation (and many others like it), and applied learning objectives that were appropriate to the classroom setting.

The class was my organizational behavior course (BUAD 604), and in the teamwork learning module, our professor assigned the Everest Expedition simulation. Here are the basics of how it works:

  • Each student on the (randomly assigned) six-person team was assigned a different role to play, and each had separate pieces of key information based on your character and his/her background.
  • Each person had a set of personal goals that they were supposed to achieve during the simulation.
  • We had six simulated “days” for our Everest trek (but the simulation itself ran about two real-time hours).

My role was the environmentalist, a well-known and experienced mountaineer who would be setting out to conquer the mountain one last time after a failed attempt due to acute elevation sickness. I was also charged with the task of staying an extra night at not one, but two of the five campsites to clean up from others who failed to keep a clean trek. As you can see, with my goals alone, five camps, six days, and in two of those days staying an extra day, I could not reach the top and meet all of my goals.

Working as a Team to Make It to the Top

Here's an example of what my Everest dashboard looked like while I was doing the simulation.

Here’s an example of what my Everest dashboard looked like while I was doing the simulation.

The simulation itself was held in class, requiring everyone to bring in an electronic device that could run flash and java. Determined to do the best, we six huddled around each other and our computers to share the information each of us were provided, while at the same time hiding some in order to preserve our personal goals and try to reach the summit.

As each “day” of the simulation unfolded, the team was hit with new obstacles, poor health conditions, and treacherous weather. But when it came down to deciding if we would continue on up to the next camp, we each chose individually. At Camp 3, I was apparently experiencing an asthma attack, although my character’s profile had no mention of previously having asthma. The medic character however did have record of my previous sicknesses, and the knowledge that asthma can become a result. So on day four at Camp 3, myself and the medic stayed behind one extra day while the rest of the team left us behind.

We quickly learned that other people had different pieces of information and goals, as the simulation then presented the “leader” character with some challenges after he had left us behind. His goal was to reach the top no matter what in five of the six days, with or without anyone else, as a monetary reward was at stake for him. But as he found out, he could not survive more than one day without medical supplies handy, supplied by medic being nearby. And the medic was left behind at the camp, with me.

The Technology was Simple but Effective

I didn't make it to the top, but I got close...

I didn’t make it to the top, but I got close…

The entire experience was a great example of how teams work and don’t work in the behavior organizational model. The technology was very simple use, but was the best way to personally illustrate the classroom module point. I ended up being airlifted off the mountain on the last day without reaching the top because of my previous health complications, as well did the “marathon” character.

Post-simulation, we regrouped as a class to discuss what different groups found in their experiences. The most common observation from the software simulation was that groups may have one goal (getting to the top) but personal individual goals can alter the group outcome.

This simulation is offered through Forio, and it is worth exploring their website to see what other kinds of learning simulations they offer — they have a free membership that gives you some limited access, as well as paid memberships that let you build your own simulations.