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Simulations of Decision-making: what Makes Worth the Effort? Identifying their Impact on Students' Interest Development.

Dorothy Duchatelet, Peter Bursens, Vincent Donche, David Gijbels, Pieter Spooren

Academic teaching in political science has been increasingly changing from more teacher-centered towards more student-centered teaching. This trend entails the increasing use of simulations, which challenge students to deal critically with various aspects of decision-making, the content of policies, and the interactions between multiple actors and levels. Advocates of simulations make a number of claims about the effects on learning results and dimensions of affective learning. However, substantive evidence of the effects is up to now rather anecdotal and methodologically poor, sometimes even contradictory.Hence, the main aim of this research is to investigate the effect of simulations of decision-making on one of the most important affective components of student learning: student's situational interest. The latter has been shown to be triggered by factors in the learning environment and to be an important predictor of academic performance. This research starts from the assumption that variation in active-learning environments, in this case the use of simulations, will have an impact on students' situational interest. The research questions in this project therefore deal with how simulations influence situational interest of students. Do simulations of decision-making enhance student's situational interest? How does situational interest develop during a simulation of decision-making? Which conditions make simulations of decision-making more or less effective? What are the prohibiting and stimulating factors?Methodologically the project uses a quasi-experimental study in an ecological valid setting combining repeated measurement survey data with qualitative data from interviews and focus groups with students.The generated knowledge about the conditions under which simulations have effect will enable academic teachers to optimize their simulation exercises and strengthen the development of students' situational interest (and, as a consequence, students' learning).

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