The Official Journal
The North Carolina
Editorial Board: Editor: George H. Conklin, North Carolina Central University Board: Richard Dixon, UNC-Wilmington Chien Ju Huang, North Carolina Central University Ken Land, Duke University Miles Simpson, North Carolina Central University Ron Wimberley, N.C. State University Robert Wortham, North Carolina Central University
Volume 3, Number 1
David Kolb has developed a way of looking at learning as a cyclical process. His model (Gish 1979) includes the steps of concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. In this process a person has an experience, reflects on it as new or related to other experiences, develops concepts to name and connect it with other experiences, and uses the concepts in later actions as a guide for behavior. Out of these sequential steps the person derives a new set of experiences that lead to a repeat of the learning cycle. Effective learning occurs when all four steps come into play. In the academic setting, learning usually focuses on only one or two of the above steps. For example, in the social sciences we are very good at presenting lecture information or, what Kolb would call, abstract conceptualization. We fall short, however, in providing the steps of concrete experience or active experimentation. Applying Kolb’s model, educators need to develop situations for students to experience all the steps. The students’ incorporation of additional learning steps into their academic studies could result in students more fully internalizing and therefore retaining, skills and knowledge from their courses. This teaching note will discuss the uses of a simulation prison project in a sociology corrections class as one technique toward this goal.
According to educational theory (Mays and Taggart 1985:61) there are two views concerning the acquisition of knowledge: 1) the student-centered approach aimed at personal development and stimulation of creativity and 2) the subject-centered approach concerned with imparting specific knowledge. While the latter is the primary aim of most college-level courses, the former world be more in line with the ideas of Kolb. Coleman (1971:324) feels that simulations can provide a blending of the above aims by teaching specific content as well as reasoning and analytical skills. The rationale for using such an approach is that students do not learn primarily from being taught, but through experiencing the consequences of actions and decisions. Additional support for this approach comes from the work of Ellington, Addinell and Percival. (1981).
The model prison is a student-centered technique which is based on the following assumptions: 1) simulations are more useful for teaching processes than they are for conveying large amounts of specific knowledge, and 2) when used with particular study units, simulations are useful in stimulating discussions. Simulations represent a joining of the theoretical and the practical, a synthesis that is difficult to capture in lectures or textbooks (Mays and Taggart 1985:61).
Although simulations have been used in a wide variety of educational settings, they are not without their critics. One of the main criticisms is that a simulation is still artificial. It may oversimplify reality, and therefore may teach nothing about real life (Coleman 1971:325).
Introduction to the Process
The design a prison concept, used in my Corrections class, is designed to be a creative simulation. Students design the prisons themselves using information gained in class and from outside sources. In developing both the internal and external structure of the prison, the students are developing a model which will later be subject to evaluation.
The Corrections classes are composed mainly of junior and senior, criminal justice and sociology/corrections majors. Since these students have a basic background in the field of criminal justice, they are ready for the applied steps of Kolb’s learning cycle. Students get a chance to experiment actively by designing a prison based on abstract conceptualizations they have from prior classes etc., as well as, the concrete experience of having taken a tour of a correctional facility while in the Corrections class. Finally, they use reflective observation when they are asked to make their presentations to the class and have their project critiqued and graded by both their peers and me.
Administration of the Process
Students are put into groups (4-6)
and given a basic outline for the project the first week of the semester.
The instructions are:
Current prisons have failed to rehabilitate inmates. Therefore, you have been assigned the task of designing a more effective prison. Not only should you include in your project a drawing of your prison but also a list of the ten most important rules.Your prison should deal with the following areas:
Presentation and Evaluation of the Process
Presentations are given the last
two weeks of the semester. Each group has one class period for their
presentation and a class discussion. Each student is graded individually
according to the following areas (10 pts. Each):
In conclusion, this project is a student-centered approach to learning which stresses creativity. Students have become active participants rather than passive observers of the learning process.
The Results of the Process
The implementation of this technique
leads to the following observations:
Based on over 15 years experience with this project, the following suggestions may also be helpful.
Powerpoint is useful in teaching about prisons. Attached is a Powerpoint presentation which can serve as an example of how the simulation has been used in my classes. Please note that the Powerpoint files should be requested using a high-speed Internet connection only.
Coleman, James. 1971. “Learning Through Games.” In E. Avedon and B. Sutton-Smith (Eds.), The Study of Games. Pp. 322-325. New York: Wiley.
Ellington, Henry, Addinall, Eric, and Percival, Fred. 1981. Games and Simulations in Science Education. London: Kogan Page, Ltd.
Gish, Glen, L. 1979. “The Learning Cycle.” Synergist 8, pp. 2-6.
Mays, Larry G. and William A. Taggart. 1985. “Teaching Through the Use of Games and Simulations,” American Journal of Criminal Justice X, pp. 55-74.
©Copyright 2005 by the North Carolina Sociological Association