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Flipping Global Simulations: Global Simulations in the Digital Era

La simulation globale à l’heure du numérique : une simulation globale « inversée »
Kerrie McKim


La simulation globale, jeu de rôle sur le long terme dont la pratique est impliquée dans les cours de langue depuis plusieurs décennies (Caré et Debyser), est de plus en plus utilisée aujourd’hui grâce aux possibilités offertes par les sites Internet et les plateformes éducatives et communicatives. En nous basant sur les notions de l’apprentissage des langues médiatisé par les jeux, la perspective actionnelle et une pédagogie inversée, nous présenterons une simulation globale dite inversée où le contenu de la SG est présenté en distanciel alors que l’action du jeu se déroule en présentiel. Utilisant des données provenant d’un cours de français inversé qui comprenait une simulation globale, ces notes présentent une analyse préliminaire de cette pratique en mettant l’accent sur la perspective des apprenants.

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1Games have played a role in language learning for decades (Silva; Décuré; Vold). Games are now the subject of much research with academic journals and conferences dedicated to this topic (Silva and Loiseau 11). The question raised during the 38th annual APLIUT conference pertaining to the use of games in higher education is a pertinent one to revisit today. To respond to this question, we are proposing a flipped global simulation (GS) which takes place in class and online. The implementation of a flipped class with a GS allows for the content learning and task preparation to be completed outside of class, which in turn allows the face-to-face time to be devoted to communicative tasks.

2Following a previous study (McKim) on vocabulary acquisition using websites in a flipped language learning class, this article looks at the data from the previous research and analyses the teaching practice of a flipped GS (a component of the course). In this paper designed to present this teaching practice through a preliminary analysis, particular attention is given to the student perspective of the design and implementation.

1. Theoretical Background

1.1. Games, Task-Based Learning, and Global Simulations

3Despite a long tradition of game implementation in language learning classrooms, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) refers minimally to games (Silva “Le jeu en classe” 21). Today, thanks in part to the development of technology, games are witnessing a rebirth in language learning. While the CEFRL considers games as more of a support to language learning and not as a medium (Schmoll par. 9) or tool; Sykes and Reinhardt specify in their book dedicated to digital games, that games can act as a tool or medium. They explain that in the realm of game-mediated language learning, the term mediated “recognizes that games are a tool or medium for facilitating L2 teaching and learning”(xii).

1.1.1. Global Simulation Games

4Global simulations (GS) were created during the late 1970s (Caré and Debyser 8) and started with GS such as l’Immeuble (“The building”) for general language courses. A series for Language for Specific Purposes (LSP) courses was later developed that included the Hotel (for tourism), the International Conference (for diplomates and international relations), and L’entreprise (the Company; for business) (Caré and Debyser 6). GS have been implemented by language instructors since their inception several decades ago and have been regaining popularity in recent years due to the role of technology in their implementation.

5Yaiche explains what a GS can be:

  • 1 Our translation for: “Prenez un lieu, de préférence clos : une île, un immeuble, un village, un hôt (...)

Take a place, preferably enclosed: an island, a building, a village, a hotel, etc. Have the students invest in it and describe it and imagine that they live there… Use this place as a place to locate all activities, written and oral, of general or specialized communication. This gives you a global simulation. (Yaiche preface)1

6Some experts, however, believe that a GS should not be considered as a game (Levine; Schmoll). Levine refers to Jones who insists that “there is no play -either in a theatrical or in a gaming sense- in a simulation, and if there were, then it would stop being a simulation” (qtd. in Levine 27). Other specialists in the field (Martinez; Musset and Thibert) categorize a GS as a game.

  • 2 Our translation for: “Il faut que ces activités fonctionnent dans l’esprit des élèves vraiment comm (...)

7It is indeed the play aspect that seems to qualify an activity as a game (Silva “Le jeu comme outil”; Décuré; Vold). Researchers show that it is the attitude and the perception of the learners that counts. According to Genvo, (qtd. in Vold 38), it is the moment that someone adopts a playful attitude towards the activity that the concept of game becomes evident. Suso Lopez, who classifies GS as communicative games, insists that “[t]hese activities must function in the minds of the students really like games” (397)2.

1.1.2. Task-Based Learning

8In alignment with the task-based learning (TBL) approach adopted by the CEFRL, researchers tend to agree that a GS should be task-based. The notion of task, omnipresent in second language acquisition research in recent years, is considered essential in the organization of a GS. Levine insists that “an additional characteristic of language class simulation is that it must be fundamentally task based” (28).

9Following a TBL approach, the organization of a GS is comprised of a series of tasks to develop the fictitious characters and events taking place in the alternate world. During a flipped GS, tasks are completed both online and in face-to-face class.

1.2. Global Simulations and the Internet

10With the dominant role that games play in society today, we notice a rebirth taking place in the role of games in education and language learning. In the case of GS, they have seen drastic changes over the years from the original GS taking place inside the four walls of the classroom. With the arrival of the Internet, GS have shifted online. The development of this semi-fictitious world is now created with the help of websites (that can serve as a connection between the real world and the imaginary world), learning platforms, and modern communication tools.

1.3. Flipped Classrooms and Global Simulations

  • 3 Our translation: “un moment de rencontre plus intense favorisant les échanges” (Université de Lorra (...)

11The evolution of technology and educational platforms has more and more schools and instructors turning to blended courses. In recent years, a growing trend is for instructors to flip their classrooms. Some educators (Bergmann and Sims) describe a flipped class as doing homework in class and classwork at home while others (Bishop and Verleger) place emphasis on watching pre-recorded lectures online before coming to class. While there is no one definition for a flipped classroom, neither one of these definitions seems suitable for a communicative language learning classroom. A general definition provided by the Cambridge Dictionary seems more versatile in its definition, defining the concept as “a teaching method in which students first learn about a new subject at home, especially online, and then have discussions on it in class.” The flipped classroom is being implemented in primary and secondary classes as well as in university courses. The Université de Lorraine tested out a flipped model in their classes and found that the model favored face-to-face sessions making them “a more intense encounter for exchanges” (Synthèse)3.

  • 4 Our translation : “Les descriptions de cette démarche pédagogique insistent fortement sur l’interac (...)

12In a flipped GS, the learners prepare the necessary vocabulary and content before coming to engage in the oral communicative tasks in the classroom. Bricco and Rossi (4) insist on the importance of the classroom interaction in the GS: “(t)he descriptions of this pedagogical approach strongly emphasize the participants' face-to-face interaction (original highlighting)4.

13In the planning and organization of the GS, Levine (28) reiterates the importance of the briefing and debriefing stages. These periods serve primarily to prepare the learners for the content, grammar forms, and vocabulary necessary to complete the tasks. With the newly designed flipped GS, these phases are now moved online - supplying learners with the necessary language and content via relevant Internet websites and other resources provided by the instructor. This online preparation design allows learners to dictate how much time and energy they dedicate for preparing for the in-class tasks. This online phase equally helps eliminate concerns such as those expressed by Jones (qtd. in Levine 28) that too much time and energy focusing on the language preparatory phase may intimidate some learners and prevent them from participating.

2. Designing a Flipped GS

2.1. Context and Design

14While completing a study (McKim) focused on the integration of Internet websites in a small (14 learners) intermediate (levels between A2 and B1) university French language course in the United States; we created an instructional design implementing what we refer to as an “Internet bridge” design which parallels the principles known today as a flipped pedagogy. During this flipped course, students engaged in a GS which we refer to as a “flipped global simulation”.

15Before each face-to-face class session (taking place three times a week), learners were instructed to study provided content and language websites to prepare for tasks that would take place during the regularly scheduled class time. The learners studied the online materials (primarily websites) before class as well as completed written tasks online after class to continue the storyline that was developing in class. In this sense the course comes full circle between task preparation online before class, oral task completion in class, and post-class written tasks online.

2.2. Connecting the Distance Learning and the Classroom Learning

16This flipped GS is based on the idea of making a bridge to connect tasks completed online and in class with the essential learning taking place before class while the practice is completed during class. Below we show our general setup for a series of tasks connecting these modalities.

17- Step 1: Pre-class: Study the necessary content and vocabulary websites.
- Optional Step 1b: Post a message in the online discussions.
- Step 2: In-class: Participate in oral communicative tasks (based on language and content presented on supplied websites).
- Optional Step 2b: Outside of class: Written tasks (follow up postings about events taking place in the building/ with the characters).

18While there were a few tasks during the GS that did not require written work, most tasks required some form of online posting. This allowed the learners to have access to information regarding the development of the storyline and characters (the daily routines of the characters, events taking place, alibis for a murder, etc.).

2.3. Global Simulation Tasks

19For approximately half of the semester, the learners participated in a global simulation “l’immeuble” which was inspired from the works of Debyser and Yaiche. Following guidelines set forth by these pioneers of GS, the following elements were included in the simulation:
- A place (a city, a building).
The development of characters.
- The design of the home.
- The daily routine of the inhabitants.
- A crime.

20Within each of the steps of the SG, there were several tasks that were implemented. As an example, the crime (murder) element contained communicative tasks on the themes of rumors, accusations, interrogations, and punishment.

3. Observations and Student Viewpoints

21Extracting data from our prior study (McKim), we re-analyzed the data to focus on the implementation of a flipped global simulation. Data for this preliminary analysis was collected from end of semester student questionnaires, the researcher’s observation log, as well as student journals. Four key elements related to the flipped GS were observed in the data and are presented in this section. Observables coming from researcher notes are presented and connected with relevant comments made by the learners.

3.1. The essential role of the preparatory phase

22At the beginning of the course, learners were informed of the “Internet bridge” (flipped learning) design of the course and the importance of studying online materials before attending the face-to-face class sessions. Students’ comments (below) noted their thoughts on the importance of studying the vocabulary websites before class.

  • 5 Our translation for “[les sites]m'ont donne de la vocabulaire que je pouvait utiliser en classe (le (...)

In one instance, we needed to prepare for our "trial of josephine's murder". having access to the websites on weapons and other vocab on death, etc, we could study before hand and not waste anytime during class.
[The websites] provided vocabulary that I could use in class
(words like fossettes [dimples] to describe my character, and words like chantage [blackmail] to discuss Josephine’s murder.5

3.2. The important role of the online postings

23With a goal of connecting the distance phase and face-to-face sessions and dedicating class time to oral communicative tasks; the written tasks online gave the opportunity to continue the storyline outside of class and bring it back to the next class session.

24As observed during class sessions, there was occasionally a gap between the learners who thoroughly prepared (and read all postings before attending class) and those who may not have kept up with online postings. As learners indicate, there was self-pressure to keep up to date to be aware of the latest developments in the storyline.

The forum actually prepared me for class discussions more than I thought they would.
In the murder mystery project, the internet was important to communicating our alibis and keeping the story progressing. we had to pay attention to these posts to participate in interviews and interrogations in class.
It was important to stay up to date with the forums so you were on top of things in the classroom. if you didn't pay attention, you'd be lost in class discussions. when we assumed characters in the lyon project, the forum grew increasingly important to know your neighbors, know their routines, their alibies, etc. these things were important to the participation
If we did not consult the forum to view what other students posted it would have been incredibly difficult to communicate […].

3.3. Real world application and culture in context

25The purpose of the generalist design of the GS is to focus on completing daily tasks using everyday vocabulary. While choosing a destination (Lyon) and developing the storyline, the learners visited the cities virtually using a plethora of French websites. It was observed (through online messages and postings of websites and images) that the learners became immersed in the city of Lyon and invested themselves in the project beyond what was required of them. They initiated online discussions about daily life in the city from activities in the city to which neighborhood to live in. At the end of the simulation, learners noted the impact of using real authentic French websites for their tasks.

[…] because that's exactly what it's like in french society.
[…] they were fun to look at because they were real websites that french people look on everyday.
[…] because it puts you in the real world.
[…] in another french class […] i’m not learning interesting and useful vocabulary […] in this class, i have learned “everyday” vocabulary that will help me function in real day to day situations. because the class is centered around “everyday” life, it is easy to remember the vocabulary used.

3.4. The game factor

  • 6 Our translation for “utilisant toutes les fonctions du langage, y compris la fonction ‘plaisir’.

26With regard to the play aspect (see 1.1.1) of a GS, Caré and Debyser (5) refer to the pleasure side “including all language functions, including the ‘fun’ function”6 in the development of the GS. Learners used their imagination in the development of this semi-fictitious world. When asked about their experience, learners used the words “game” as well as words associated with games such as “fun”, “enjoyable” and “amusant” to describe the GS.

  • 7 Our translation for: “C’était très amusant de discuter le meurtre au forum.
  • 8 Our translation for: “Il y avait plein de nouvelle vocabulaire pour ce sujet, (comme "le chantage," (...)

[…] also during the game we had to know different noises and sounds […] once again during the murder mystery game the websites helped when we had to create an identity for our character […].
[…] the whole experience with the french appartment was fun.
It was like a game of clue and I love clue so it was fun for me to come to class and speak about who I thought was the murderer and why.
It is fun to discuss the murder mystery on the forum
There was a lot of useful vocabulary for this subject (like “le chantage” [blackmail] and “Rouleau a patisserie” [rolling pin]). This vocabulary amused me and we used it a lot in class.8

4. Discussion: Implication for LSP and LAP

27While the data presented in this article comes from a general French language course, the flipped GS can be implemented in Language for Specific Purposes (LSP) and Language for Academic Purposes (LAP) courses. As stated previously, global simulations for LSP courses have been used since the early 1990s (Caré and Debyser) and are used today in both LSP and LAP courses (Bricco and Rossi; Cabré and Gómez).

28We have implemented global simulations in LSP and LAP courses including English courses for social workers (in France) and French courses for international studies (international policy, international trade) in the United States. With the GS for the social workers (who had a passion for volunteer work), a GS of a natural disaster was implemented where learners created disaster relief groups (each with a different theme and goal) to seek out the victims of the disaster and bring aid to them. The GS implemented with the international studies students (who were focused on Francophone countries in Africa) was a cruise ship that went around Francophone ports in Africa, learning about the economics and policies of the different countries as the ship cruised around the continent. The nature of GS makes them flexible in design with tasks and themes that can be adapted according to the specific language and career goals of the learners.

Concluding Remarks

29This design of flipping the GS has thus far shown to be advantageous in allowing more time for meaningful in-class discussions, promoting autonomous learning, as well as allowing for play and game in the language learning process. As seen through comments from questionnaires and student journals, learners appreciated the layout, the focus on real-world language and culture and the oral communication focus in class. While they stated that this design could be more time consuming, they understood the importance of studying the content and vocabulary resources before class as well as participating in online discussions.

30As technology continues to evolve, we continue to transform and adjust our flipped global simulation models. We have recently been conducting our flipped GS using mobile devices and social media tools. Our goal is to continue to bridge the distance phase and the face-to-face sessions so there is a seamless connection between the two. Mobile tools and applications are proving thus far to enable a smooth connection while continuing to put emphasis on meaningful oral communicative tasks in the class sessions. In the future, we would like to study more in depth the habits of the language learners regarding the mobile and social learning tools we are adopting as well as follow the chain of ideas and language use between the tasks completed online through written format and the oral communicative tasks that follow.

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1 Our translation for: “Prenez un lieu, de préférence clos : une île, un immeuble, un village, un hôtel, etc. Faites-le investir et décrire par des élèves qui imagineront en être les habitants… Utilisez ce lieu-thème comme lieu de vie pour localiser toutes les activités d’expression écrite et orale, toutes les activités de communication générale ou spécialisée. Vous obtenez ainsi une simulation globale.” (Yaiche, preface)

2 Our translation for: “Il faut que ces activités fonctionnent dans l’esprit des élèves vraiment comme des jeux” (Suso Lopez 397).

3 Our translation: “un moment de rencontre plus intense favorisant les échanges” (Université de Lorraine Synthèse)

4 Our translation : “Les descriptions de cette démarche pédagogique insistent fortement sur l’interaction présentielle des participants.” (Bricco and Rossi 4, original highlighting)

5 Our translation for “[les sites]m'ont donne de la vocabulaire que je pouvait utiliser en classe (les mots comme fossettes pour decrire mon personnage, et les mots comme chantage pour discuter le meurtre de josephine.

6 Our translation for “utilisant toutes les fonctions du langage, y compris la fonction ‘plaisir’.

7 Our translation for: “C’était très amusant de discuter le meurtre au forum.

8 Our translation for: “Il y avait plein de nouvelle vocabulaire pour ce sujet, (comme "le chantage," et "rouleau a patisserie").  Cette vocabulaire m'a bien amusee et on l'a beaucoup utilise en classe.”

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Kerrie McKim, « Flipping Global Simulations: Global Simulations in the Digital Era », Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité [En ligne], Vol.36 N°2 | 2017, mis en ligne le 28 juin 2017, consulté le 19 janvier 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/apliut.5750

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Kerrie McKim

Kerrie McKim obtained a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics specializing in Second Language Acquisition from the Université de Grenoble (France). She has taught French as a Foreign Language in the United States as well as English to Speakers of Other Languages in the United States and in France. Her research interests focus on the integration of websites, social media, and mobile learning tools in language learning.

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