Digital Simulation Platform UPenn

Real world experiences in a game-like setting

It’s always challenging to connect classroom learning with real-world experience. But the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has come up with a promising approach…using the latest technology to create a truly authentic scenario that can be customized to blend theory with practice.

Workplace internships offer a great way for students to practice what they are learning. Universities must assess the extent to which the experience supports the coursework. Working with a team of designers, programmers, and technologists, Professor Ethan Mollick at the Wharton School built “Looking Glass,” a digital simulation platform, driven by a story engine that can quickly create an Alternate Reality Teaching, or ART, experience.

Using a powerful scenario editor and game master interface, this ART system makes it easy to develop just about any workplace environment, while customizing it to support classroom instruction by adding appropriate settings, tasks, and challenges. Likewise, Looking Glass has embedded high-tech reporting and feedback capabilities to capture plenty of student assessment data. And there is a badge system and leader board that add an additional dimension to help promote engagement and drive competition.

Once a virtual scenario is developed, students can experience the real world of work, by interacting with true-to- life avatars as well as with each other. And in moving through this scenario, they frequently encounter authentic problems that can only be solved by applying the theories and skills they have learned in the classroom.

For example, ART has transformed how the Wharton School teaches entrepreneurship to MBA students by creating a simulation grounded in an accurate depiction around what it’s like to build a startup company which correlates to some twenty-four course learning objectives.

By taking on the role of entrepreneurs, these students deal with any number of real-life scenarios, including legal issues, strategic planning, personnel decisions, and marketing challenges.

Thus far, Looking Glass is working extremely well for the students it serves.

So what’s next on Wharton’s innovation horizon? To make ART scalable for the masses while exploring how this approach might revolutionize MOOC instruction.

It is often difficulty to tie the classroom learning to a real-world experience. Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has found a way to make this easy for faculty members. They created a platform and story engine called “Looking Glass” to enable instructors to build an Alternate Reality Teaching (ART) experience.

Professor Ethan Mollick was the faculty member behind the creation of ART who worked tirelessly with a team of designers, technologist and programmers to develop characters, companies, storyboards, and supporting websites.

Game-like digital simulation platform

Using ART, any scenario can be quickly created and managed. Students have access to tools typical of the workplace such as email, video chat, document access, and messaging. These tools are monitored and controlled by the ART system. A powerful scenario editor and game master interface makes it easy to run a game and create a scenario that cuts across classes, programs and even regions. The ability to create avatars and use aliases drives engagement while a badge system and leaderboard drives competition. The system has built-in reporting and feedback capabilities and captures data that can be used for academic research.

Unlike traditional real-world experiences like internships, using ART enables a controlled environment to ensure that student learning correlates to the course work.

Moving from theory to practice?

Students interact with non-player characters and each other to solve theoretical problems designed in a “work like: simulation. The platform allows instructors to create situations that require them to apply knowledge learning in class. Adding tasks and obstacles heightens the experience.

One example is a simulation built for their MBA program with a focus on entrepreneurship. Designed around a startup company scenario, students are placed in the role where the founder that hired them mysteriously quits. Over a three-week period, the students are thrust into a variety of situations from dealing with legal issues to strategically growing the company in a highly competitive emerging market.

Students interact with non-player characters and other students and learn in a realistic manner what happens when the apply theories learned. Multiple learning objectives from the course work are accomplished and teachers are able to add comments outside of the game or facilitate a post-game discussion.

What’s next?

University of Pennsylvania is now developing ART to make it scalable for the masses enabling its use in MOOC instruction.