Beyond the Spreadsheet: A Multimedia Systems Thinking Simulation

Randall Dupont
School of Business, University of Mobile

Popularized in Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Jay Forrester’s classic “beer game” simulation illustrates how problems arise from a lack of systems thinking.  Few simulations have stood the test of time better.  Simulating the production-distribution system of a beverage company, the iconic game’s appeal goes beyond the business realm.  The role-playing game illustrates the “bullwhip effect” of small decisions as individuals find their thinking circumscribed by the system in which they operate.  The concepts of systems thinking are interdisciplinary, making it a favorite among academics and practitioners worldwide seeking an experiential learning component.  Academic interest has grown in recent decades, along with simulation development.  The table-top version of the board game mimics the 1960s when it was created.  However, in today’s age of real-time, integrated information systems, a manual board game is unrealistic and tedious.  Early attempts to “computerize” the game lacked the realism of a multimedia experience, being little more than macro-enabled spreadsheets.  Building on the popularity of networking and multiplayer online gaming, Kai Riemer, chair of business information systems at the University of Sydney, developed interactive facilitation software (www.beergame.org) which uses audio, graphics, and animation.  To achieve deeper insights into systems thinking education, teachers can control game parameters to fit the academic environment.  The presentation will examine the interdisciplinary concepts of systems thinking, demonstrate the games multimedia nature, and highlight measures of student learning.  Licensed versions of the game are free for academic use.