Teaching and Learning

ReliefSim has been used in two ways: as a discovery-based learning tool, and as a student knowledge assessment and discussion-generating tool. Most recently it has been used as part of the final exam in a course in the Forced Migration program at the Mailman School of Public Health.

As a discovery-based learning tool, students are instructed to attempt deriving key relationships between common intervention options and the health of a refugee camp. They do this by experimenting with different interventions at different times and attempting to isolate variables to better understand their relationship with other variables, and camp health in general. A key outcome of the exercise is the uncovering of effective sequences of interventions for the protection of camp population health. Students have the opportunity to discover and propose priorities according to the data they collect via experimentation.

To augment and assist the discovery process, ReliefSim includes a feature that allows students to save and download a record of camp data, their decisions and the consequences of their decisions for turns that were made. This file is in the .csv format. Preserving each game or "experiment" in this way allows students go back through their decisions and compare and contrast outcomes in order to attempt identification of key influences on camp health.

As the assignment can be done on the student's own, class time can be used for individual presentations of findings, and individual or class recommendations around priority actions in refugee camp emergencies. These can then be compared to the Sphere Standards, with similarities and differences discussed as a class.

As a knowledge assessment and discussion generating tool, students work in groups that "compete" against each other for stabilizing mortality rate within the camp fastest. The groups each run separate instances of the simulation in which they must act. Groups debate amongst themselves about what actions should be taken at what time and why. Facilitators listen and document student points for accuracy or error. After a set time (typically two hours) the two groups compare the status of their camps, particularly the total amount of deaths. The losing group (with more deaths) must go back through their history of decisions and look for missed opportunities for intervention. This model has been used successfully for the last two years as part of a final exam in a Public Health course at Columbia.

Read elements of the evaluation of ReliefSim's use in the classroom.