Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Teaching Strategic Intelligence Through Games (Original Research)

(Note:  This is another in a series of posts that I refer to as “experimental scholarship” -- or using the medium of the internet and the vehicle of this blog as a way to put my research online for more or less real-time peer review. Earlier examples of this genre include: A Wiki Is Like A Room..., The Revolution Begins On Page 5, What Is Intelligence? and What Do Words Of Estimative Probability Mean?.  

This series of posts is based off a paper I gave at the Game Education Summit last week.)

Strategic intelligence is considered by intelligence professionals to be the highest form of the analytic art.   There is a tremendous need for this type of intelligence product and a lack of trained professionals capable of producing it.  Developing effective teaching methods for this challenging subject, therefore, is an area of ongoing concern for the business, law enforcement and national security intelligence communities.

Previous research (cited in detail in later posts) suggests that a game-based approach to teaching can be successful but no report so far has examined game-based learning in teaching intelligence analysis.  I hypothesized that a game-based approach to teaching strategic intelligence analysis would increase learning and improve performance while also increasing student satisfaction with the course.

This series of posts reports the initial results and lessons learned from teaching three full courses (2 undergraduate and one graduate) in strategic intelligence using games as a teaching tool.  This series of posts will begin by examining the unique challenges in teaching strategy, strategic decisionmaking and the types of intelligence that supports those efforts.  This will be followed by a short discussion concerning games-based learning generally before examining in detail the specific approaches used in these three courses. 
This series of posts will also examine both the learning outcomes and student satisfaction with the courses.  Finally, this series of posts will discuss appropriate course modifications for undergraduate and graduate students when teaching advanced subjects with games based on the evidence from this study.

What is strategy and what are strategic decisions?
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Eric said...

Of course the graphics for the old Avalon HIll game EMPIRES IN ARMS caught my eye!

The first question to be asked is what aspects of strategy (and supporting strategic intelligence) would gaming prove to be a better learning delivery method than others. I'm hopeful that the next post, "What Is Strategy and What Are Strategic Decisions" will help us to arrive at this.

Regarding the benefits of gaming over lecture, case method, and other curriculum methods, the most powerful aspect is the narrative nature of the game. Students tend to remember what happened quite vividly, and if the game is a well constructed one so that execution well matches desired learning outcomes, the speed and comprehensiveness of learning are both high. Of course, there are numerous downsides. One, the game may not go quite the way the instructor intended; a lot of effort must be expended to get things back on track. Two, the instructor has to be very very good with the game so such "corrections" don't smell like forcing the outcome overmuch. Third--and my far the most insidious--is the problem of "one run" of the game. Games are usually open ended with many possible results; if you only get one in class, vividness bias assures that the students will remember it and not consider other possibilities.

For strategic intelligence, my particular bent is for advising policymakers whether or not their strategies are feasible, particularly regarding the balance of ends, ways, and means. This is a typical strategic problem and a major issue for decisionmakers to deal with when their strategies appear to be failing. Questions asked are whether failure is due a problem of execution or one of conception. Intelligence analysts must be prepared to deal with either realm.

Herein lies the first challenge--the game HAS to be so simple that class participants can discern this without a lot of experience with the game system.

Next, the problem of in answering questions about execution failure revolve around issues of whether it's good strategic design suffering poor performance in conducting it AND/OR a counterintelligence problem. Regarding the latter, the execution might be otherwise terrific if it didn't telegraph the strategic intention and concept ahead of time to an opponent who, forewarned, is able to pre-empt, disrupt, or dislocate it.

So there is the second challenge--enabling things such as security and deception in to muddy the waters surrounding this in a very simple way.

Lastly, you want a game with a richness of strategic interaction--many players involved. Purely two-player games are unsatisfactory in this regard.

I'd be interested to learn what games and methods are favored in teaching truly strategic intelligence as opposed to teaching intelligence principles in general. The literature is somewhat better developed regarding the latter.

Vinis said...

When studying at King's College London I remember that Dr. Phil Sabin taught a course on strategy games. Might have some relevance, re didactics:

Mary said...

Terrific article! We would love to have some of your thoughts for our Games for Educators, website, Kristan J. Wheaton and Eric.

We have an associated newsletter that goes out to over 230,000 educators, librarians and homeschoolers.

Thank you,

Mary Couzin
Chicago Toy and Game Group