Business Simulations in Practice: Online Seminars with TOPSIM – General Management at DHBW Stuttgart

For over two month no face-to-face lectures took place at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) Stuttgart. Every year, 200 simulation-based courses are held for 5,000 students at the Faculty of Business and therefore the university faced a very special challenge. In May, the first virtual simulation-based seminar took place, during which two courses participated in the business simulation TOPSIM – General Management entirely online. In this article, Birgit Zürn and Stephan Kraft share their experience on how an online simulation-based seminar can be conducted.

As “digital natives”, generation Z students generally feel at home in the virtual world. Nevertheless, it is a special challenge if the teams cannot work together in one room, but have to interact from the home office. And the team of seminar instructors can also be often located in different cities. Nevertheless, TOPSIM – General Management will be played twelve times in the sixth semesters of the Bachelor’s degree programs by the end of the summer semester.

TOPSIM at DHBW Stuttgart

How are the seminars conducted?

The simulation-based seminars at the DHBW Stuttgart take place as block events over two to three days with TOPSIM – General Management (Pro scenario) in the TOPSIM – Cloud. The business simulation is browser-based and can therefore be accessed and played by all participants from home.

Two tools are used in parallel for the online course: the TOPSIM – Cloud for the actual business simulations and a communication software (Zoom or Microsoft Teams). This enables seminar instructors and students to see and talk to each other and makes virtual group work possible. In order to avoid confusion, all TOPSIM – Cloud communication tools (messages, whiteboard and data hub) are switched off.

As usual, the first day begins with a short introduction into the simulation in the virtual plenum via Zoom. The teams then work with the manuals to the simulation during the so-called breakout sessions. They are located in virtual group rooms that are created for each team and can be visited by the seminar instructors at any time. With one click, the teams can ask for help and the instructor can send targeted messages to the small groups. For example, groups of experts are formed, who then have to present their information in the plenum via shared presentations. While the students get to know the situation in the simulation, the instructor team has time to create the game in the TOPSIM – Cloud and to send the login information to the participants. At the end of the introduction phase students participate in a detailed question and answer session in the plenum or as an online quiz.

After that, the seminar takes place similarly to the face-to-face format. The seminar instructors briefly show the situation of the next period in the plenum, then send the teams into the breakout sessions for an agreed time, visit them to clarify questions and deepen topics and then evaluate them in the plenum with the graphic analysis in the Compact View.

What are your tips for online seminars?

Especially in the online version, it requires some preliminary planning of how the individual phases of the seminar should look, how to introduce students into the business simulation, design the interim evaluations and, in the end, didactically bring everything together. The possibilities that Zoom offers are helpful: Conducting surveys (eg “Who believes that they did not need an overdraft loan?” or “Who believes they have a period surplus?”), writing on a whiteboard in groups (on different topics), sharing your own screen to show a presentation, etc. In the evaluation, addressing individual students and teams directly can be helpful (“Mr. X, what do you think about it?” or “Team Y, where would you buy now?”).

It is also striking that it is difficult to work online for as long as in face-to-face seminars, since the virtual format definitely needs more effort from both the students and the seminar instructors. Considering that, it is even more valuable to have a co-trainer team for the seminar, especially with large courses. In addition, breaks and small exercises in between are important for relaxation and concentration. And it has proven useful to set up a separate virtual group room for the two seminar instructors, in which you can meet to prepare for the evaluation, to coordinate the further course of the simulation and for general exchange. 

“Our conclusion: Although it is not as nice to play completely online because we simply miss the direct contact with the students, it is still better – also thanks to the TOPSIM – Cloud – than not to have any simulation-based seminars at all.”

Stephan Kraft, owner of KRAFT management® and lecturer at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University with a focus on management simulations

Birgit Zürn, Head of ZMS at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) Stuttgart

We would like to thank Birgit Zürn and Stephan Kraft for sharing their experience with our business simulations and look forward to new exciting seminars and projects.