Higher education professionals are always seeking new and better ways to prepare students for life after college—a goal that requires not only providing knowledge and experience in their chosen field, but also helping them stay engaged in the process. Recently, computer based simulations have magnified role playing and case study techniques that have been used in classrooms for many years. These simulations have found great success in many settings, including engineering, business, and medicine, but there have been very few computer simulations designed for writing classes. Given that some of the greatest challenges in such classes are teaching students to respond to a context, write to an audience, and stay engaged in the process, simulations have great potential to improve pedagogy in writing classes by providing a more authentic and engaging context. In this pilot study of a computer simulation designed for technical writing classes, we examined how the simulation affected these factors (authenticity and engagement). We combined qualitative and quantitative methods, doing surveys in three classes (the class using the simulation and two classes with other pedagogies) and focus groups with the simulation class. While the results of the survey were rather inconclusive, the surveys and focus groups combined taught us two main lessons: (1) the simulation needs to be believable to be effective—making it too much like a game can backfire with some students, and (2) students remain more interested when the simulation is complex and leaves them some autonomy concerning what happens. While not necessarily groundbreaking, knowing what worked and what didn’t in our simulation can provide valuable insights for future simulation designers.



College and Department

Humanities; English



Date Submitted


Document Type





Computer Simulations, Technical Writing, Student Engagement