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Terry Stewart

 

Some tips on building scenarios

Note: The CHALLENGE Suite (with the exception of CHALLENGE FRAP) has been discontinued.  This is an archive site which describes CHALLENGE as it was between 2002 and 2004 for historical purposes.  See this link for further information.  The PBL work now continues with this project (Terry Stewart - 23rd June, 2005)

Step 1. Introduction

The power of CHALLENGE lies in the scenarios. A good scenario can challenge, educate, inform and even entertain. Scenarios should be well-constructed, appropriate to the audience and deal with something that is less than straightforward.  The Builder program can be used to create or modify any number of scenarios for any number of situations. 

Before constructing a scenario in the builder, much background work needs to be done.  The following text will assist you with creating and storyboarding your scenarios.  Work through them in sequence, either outlining the scenario in a word-processing file, or creating the necessary nodes in the Builder program as you go along.  This HTML file is fairly long.  It may be worth printing it out.

Step 2. Decide on an approach

Before creating a scenario it is important to determine just how you are going to use this program.  Will is be to facilitate discussion?  Is it to guide students through a process, or is it used to throw them in the deep end and let them make mistakes.  Does it count towards their final grades or not?  What prior knowledge do the students have?

These considerations are important in determining the nature of the scenario written.

Step 3. Decide on a scenario

The first step in actually creating a new scenario is to decide what problem the scenario will focus on. Normally, it should be sufficiently complex that the solution is not obvious to the user when presented with the initial scenario information. Coming up with a good scenario is not always easy. Think of the objectives of the exercise, then think of a real-world problem that relates to these learning objectives.

At the tertiary level, personal experience at solving a complex domain-specific problem is best.  Also, consultants can be a good source of information. Ask them for any novel or unusual situations they may have been involved in. Get them to talk about it whilst you record it on tape, or note it down. Consultants are usually happy to share this information, and can become enthusiastic when they learn that their experiences are going to be embedded for all time in an exercise such as this!

At the secondary and primary level, clear learning objectives are usually outlined in the curriculum. Use these, so that any exercise clearly produces a deliverable for these objectives.

Step 4. Outline a sensible investigatory pathway

One of the first things to do is to define the approach an experienced person would take to solving the problem. In order to peruse the correct hypothesis, what observations would they make, and in what order?  What tests would they use?  They will form your "must-have" observations, procedures and tests.

Whilst doing this, compile a list of important clues.  Decide how observations pointing to the correct solution (i.e. re-enforcing the correct hypothesis) will be presented and where.  Also, recommendations as to what should be done about the problem identified need to be decided on.

Step 5.  Add misleading and/or irrelevant (but interesting) observations

The best scenarios will be ones where students can form a number of hypotheses and be given scope to investigate these.  Red herrings and misleading clues are an integral part of the problem-solving process. These components should be included. 

Somewhere along the way you will have to include an observation or two that points to the real problem and discounts the false leads.

Step 6. Work out the scope of the scenario

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of irrelevant observations which can be made regarding a real-world problem.  You can't add all of these of course, but it doesn't hurt to add a few in, especially where they will enable students to follow up on (and eventually reject...hopefully!) a false lead.  For example, a student should at least be able to examine a few objects, even if only one or two will reveal anything important.  They should be able to make all the quick observations you would normally be able to undertake "in real life" at least.  However, these should be in context and correct for the domain being dealt with. 

The ability to make a large number of observations adds to the authenticity of a scenario and makes it appear more "real" to the student working through it. Also, having extra observations and tasks available that may not be appropriate for the problem helps to test the student's ability to focus on what is (and what is not) important. This mirrors more closely the reality of a true problem analysis.

Step 7.  Collect the multimedia components

Whilst developing a scenario, bear in mind the availability of images, sound or video. The more illustrated you can make the problem, the better. Scan, or collect appropriate images both for the clues and red herrings.

Step 8. Include a little humour

Do not forget to include a little humour. This is appreciated by students and can make the whole exercise a lot more fun. One way to do this, is to include ‘characters’ students may know, such as other lecturers or general personnel. Try to give people in your scenarios a ‘character’, and make the throw-away lines and viewpoints they express consistent with the persona. The scenarios should be local if possible. The setting should places students will recognise. All this adds to the richness and realism of the experience.  

Often it comes down to the time it takes to build a scenario. A point to remember is that extra pieces can always be added to the scenario later, if needed.

Step 9. Include costs

You may wish to include costs with some or all of the procedures. These are useful, as they force students to consider their actions. Inappropriate actions carry a financial penalty, which appears as they are using the CHALLENGE player, and on their results file.

Step 10. Add the debriefing

It is worth dwelling on the debriefing text for a moment. Much of this will come from the text incorporated into the ‘clues found/not found’ boxes. However, you will need to write a specific debriefing text for the model answer. This should be well thought out and should discuss all the major clues and red herrings in the exercise. Also, you will need to decide whether instant feedback will be shown to the students or whether the information will simply be appended to their disk file.

Step 11. Consider modifying existing scenarios

The discussion above has dealt with the creation of new scenarios. However, modification of existing ones is a much easier task. If an existing scenario deals with a similar problem or domain, consider tailoring that to your requirements. After entering the scenario, it should be carefully checked in the CHALLENGE Player. Explore all the paths you have entered and check that everything is working properly. In particular, test it on the machines that students are going to use. Every time a scenario is changed, test how it looks in the CHALLENGE Player. 

Step 12. Test your scenarios

The last step is to give your scenario a test run with some willing evaluators. Older Students, consultants and other staff members are all good candidates. They will be able to give you feedback as to how easy or hard the exercise was, and point out any inconsistencies.

Step 13. Consider making your scenarios available to others

Creating a scenario takes effort.  Considering distributing your scenarios (either for sale or free) to others to adapt for their own situations.