Training in crisis communication and volcanic eruption forecasting: Design and evaluation of an authentic role-play simulation
We present an interactive, immersive, authentic role-play simulation designed to teach tertiary geoscience students in New Zealand to forecast and mitigate a volcanic crisis. Half of the participating group (i.e., the Geoscience Team) focuses on interpreting real volcano monitoring data (e.g., seismographs, gas output etc.) while the other half of the group (i.e., the Emergency Management Team) forecasts and manages likely impacts, and communicates emergency response decisions and advice to local communities. These authentic learning experiences were aimed at enhancing upper-year undergraduate students’ transferable and geologic reasoning skills. An important goal of the simulation was specifically to improve students’ science communication through interdisciplinary team discussions, jointly prepared, and delivered media releases, and real-time, high-pressure, press conferences. By playing roles, students experienced the specific responsibilities of a professional within authentic organisational structures. A qualitative, design-based educational research study was carried out to assess the overall student experience and self-reported learning of skills. A pilot and four subsequent iterations were investigated. Results from this study indicate that students found these role-plays to be a highly challenging and engaging learning experience and reported improved skills. Data from classroom observations and interviews indicate that the students valued the authenticity and challenging nature of the role-play although personal experiences and team dynamics (within, and between the teams) varied depending on the students’ background, preparedness, and personality. During early iterations, observation and interviews from students and instructors indicate that some of the goals of the simulation were not fully achieved due to: A) lack of preparedness, B) insufficient time to respond appropriately, C) appropriateness of roles and team structure, and D) poor communication skills. Small modifications to the design of Iterations 3 and 4 showed an overall improvement in the students’ skills and goals being reached. A communication skills instrument (SPCC) was used to measure self-reported pre- and post- communication competence in the last two iterations. Results showed that this instrument recorded positive shifts in all categories of self-perceived abilities, the largest shifts seen in students who participated in press conferences. Future research will be aimed at adapting this curricula to new volcanic and earthquake scenarios.