Posted: December 22, 2016 9:51 AM

Naval War College Conducts Cutting-edge Educational Simulation

NEWPORT, R.I. — A new educational simulation took place within U.S. Naval War College’s (NWC) National Security Affairs (NSA) department, Dec. 16, that is placing the school at the vanguard of experiential learning, according to the department chair.

The simulation, “Levels of Analysis 2016 Simulation,” leveraged the talents of NSA department faculty with the design and development expertise of the NWC’s Wargaming department, according to a Dec. 21 release from NWC public affairs

David Cooper, NSA chair, noted that this effort represented an educational experiment.

“What we are attempting here is on the cutting edge of what anyone in higher education is doing in terms of the scale and complexity of incorporating this type of an active learning element into a core graduate-level curriculum,” Cooper said.

Recently, NWC has been more actively using simulations as part of the student learning experience including a reinvigorated Joint Military Operations department wargame last summer.

The school’s provost is enthusiastic about the new simulation and how it can positively impact student educations.

“This simulation is exactly the type of experiential learning that we are implementing more and more of here at Naval War College,” NWC Provost Lewis Duncan said. “Allowing students experiential practice as a complement to classroom instruction ensures that they better understand and retain learning longer. We are developing more of these types of simulations and wargames here, and the Navy and nation will benefit from that.”

The one-day, five-move simulation involved 146 students arranged in 16 seminar teams. Forty-seven faculty from NSA and 16 members of the Wargaming department and the Office of Naval Intelligence Newport Detachment co-facilitated the event, which was set in the South China Seas, and involved a medium-term future scenario.

During this simulation, students considered diplomatic activities, military actions, and a variety of other decision-making issues. They dealt with a variety of leadership challenges including interagency, bureaucratic, and domestic politics, as well as interacting with other states and transnational actors. Students formulated and executed strategies to achieve their goals despite the efforts of other actors with opposing interests.

Cooper said the school is uniquely positioned among master’s level programs to develop a simulation like this due to the capabilities of the Wargaming department at NWC.

“The fact that we have a world-leading Wargaming department here at Naval War College gives us the capabilities to experiment with ambitious educational simulations,” he said.

“Events such as this connect not only to critically important active learning as we develop our future leaders, but are also directly linked to our institution’s pedigree,” said Richard LaBranche, chair of Wargaming. “Indeed, our genealogy has included experiential gaming in some manner since Lt. William McCarty Little first introduced it into the curriculum in 1886.”

Students seem to agree that seeing things from a different viewpoint is one of several valuable lessons learned throughout the simulation.

“What I’ve taken away from it is that no matter how elaborate you make the simulation, the human nature will be that if you are in a position of weakness, military or economic weakness, you seek out support from more powerful, wealthier nations. It is that simple,” said Army student Col. Brad Swift.

“The other lesson I’ve learned is that smaller nations do need to seek out help, but that investment always comes with strings. So, what price is that investment? Nothing is free,” Swift added.

Another student found that individuals can make as great an effect on the situation as national policies.

“Personalities have as much to do with negotiations as policies or strategies. It all has to do individual initiative, aggressiveness, knowledge and perseverance,” said Lt. Col. Richard Donnelley, Marine Corps reservist.

“Simulations certainly help. What has been interesting to see is how in the classroom everyone is in receive mode,” Donnelley added. “It is definitely interesting to see everyone’s personalities come out during this simulation.”

To ensure every student played an important, active role, the simulation involved three simultaneous, parallel games with identical inputs. This also allowed educators to monitor what directions the three games took.

“What was fascinating to see was if they all move to the same place, or do they go to very different places,” said Cooper. “In the event, they took different directions in some respects.”

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