Simulations through rEsource at the University of Phoenix

In November 2001 the University of Ph'enix launched rEsource, a platform for the delivery of electronic course content. rEsource was built on a proprietary LMS and is simply a Web site from which students access and download course materials. At this time in some courses, digital content is largely in the form of readings from eBooks. For other courses, a wider variety of content is used. The most innovative of these other types of content is called Simulations.

Simulations are Flash-built interactive case studies. The initial batch of Simulations covered ten domain areas of the MBA program (finance, business law, statistics, operations, and others). Since then, the University has expanded the use of Simulations to cover a multitude of topics in business, technology, and health care. There are now over 100 Simulations covering such diverse areas as critical thinking, epidemiology, and elasticity of demand. More information on Simulations is available at http://www.ph'enix.edu/simulations. Three Simulations can be run from this Web site.

How Simulations fit into the Curriculum

There are a few common threads to University of Ph'enix courses that make Simulations a good fit. First, the curriculum is created centrally. Every student who is in the ORG/502 Organizational Theory class is using the same course outline, achieving the same learning goals, and using the same course materials. Second, all of the classes are faculty led. Classroom-based and online courses are all facilitated by instructors with expertise in the domain area.

Simulations are used to support distinct learning objectives in University of Ph'enix classes. For example, an MBA course that is six weeks long may use two Simulations over the duration of the course. In a graduate-level managerial accounting class, Simulations are used to support goals around analyzing financial statements. The introduction to this Simulation reads:

Analysis of Financial Statements

In this simulation, the learner analyzes the financial health of companies through ratio analysis. S/he also studies the footnotes to the financial statements to evaluate key accounting policies and disclosures. Finally, s/he evaluates the companies on certain non-financial measures like employee satisfaction, customer spread, and the like.

The Success of Simulations

Simulations have been very well received by students and faculty at the University of Ph'enix. There are a number of factors for this success:

  • Feedback: Simulations are run in cycles (months, quarters, years), and students get substantive feedback at the end of each cycle. This helps to make the connection between actions taken and the subsequent results.
  • Real-world: The Simulations use real business scenarios to help students see the applicability of the learning.
  • Simple technology: There is no distracting technology that might take away from the learning goals of the Simulations. The Flash applications don't use audio and they can run smoothly over a 56K dial-up line.
  • Engaging: Although Simulations are not games per se, the feedback and results actively engage students and challenge them to improve their results.

Through surveying students, we noticed there was a tendency to re-run the Simulations in an attempt to get better results. One student commented that the only problem with Simulations was that there was no Back button so it was difficult to replay the scenario. This shed light on the fact that the Simulations really were engaging and our academic team was pleased to see that students would continually replay the Simulation in an attempt to hone in on a better course of action.

What's Next

Simulations have been used for over two years in the University Ph'enix curriculum and their use continues to expand. The academic and technology teams continue to work on other innovative tools to help students achieve their learning goals. These include:

  • Virtual Organizations: Mock company Internet and Intranet sites that give students access to real company data without having to use what might be privileged information at their own businesses.
  • eBook Collection: A new site for viewing, printing, and downloading electronic versions of textbooks. University of Ph'enix employs DRM technology to protect publishers' rights to the titles.
  • Grammar and Plagiarism: Automated checking of papers for plagiarism and basic grammar. Submitted papers are returned within thirty seconds.
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