New interactive tool developed by MIT Sloan professor creates a virtual world for students to explore sustainable management of renewable resources

“Fishbanks” management flight simulator now available for free on business school’s LearningEdge website

Cambridge, Mass., September 20, 2011 — Imagine you are a leader in the fishing industry. You have to balance the need to compete against others and make a living in a tough industry with the need to limit the total catch in order to sustain the fishery for future generations. Your decisions affect your company’s bottom line and the health of fish stocks and ocean ecosystems. Can you earn a profitable living without decimating the fish stocks, forcing everyone into bankruptcy and destroying the communities that rely on fishing for their livelihood?

Teachers and students everywhere can now explore such scenarios through Fishbanks, an interactive, management flight simulator available online at no cost through MIT Sloan’s LearningEdge website, which offers access to a variety of free, cutting edge teaching materials.

Fishbanks was created by Dennis Meadows, a former MIT Sloan professor and doctoral program alumnus. The new, web-based version has been adapted from Meadows’s classic game by MIT Sloan Professor John Sterman to instruct the school’s MBAs about the challenges of sustainably managing common pool resources. This new web version can be played by an individual or in teams, and in a single session or over the course of a semester.

“Management flight simulators such as Fishbanks bring an experiential aspect to learning about complex systems,” says Sterman, who also directs the MIT System Dynamics Group. “They have more impact than simply listening to a lecture or engaging in a case study discussion.”

Other management flight simulators offered through LearningEdge include Salt Seller, a commodity pricing simulation; Eclipsing the Competition, a solar photovoltaic industry simulation; Platform Wars, a video game industry simulation; CleanStart, a clean energy startup simulation; and, World Climate, a global climate policy simulation.

Each offers video user guides and online instructions for students. Video teaching notes and slides introducing and debriefing all aspects of the simulation are available for faculty.

In this newest management flight simulator, Sterman notes that some participants recognize the fishing industry’s sustainability challenges early in the game and attempt to negotiate fishing limits or quotas. However, teams often defect from those agreements to maximize their financial gain, thereby wiping out the fish. Defection generates strong emotions among the players, often leading to confrontations between the cooperators and defectors and creating important teaching moments around critical issues in real fisheries.

“In the post-game debriefing, we explore examples of successful resource management and the economic, political and social policies needed to implement and sustain them,” Sterman says.

The professor, who has been developing management flight simulators since the 1980s, notes that MIT Sloan has been a pioneer among business schools when it comes to action learning, a key element in many MIT Sloan classes and laboratories that create real-world applications of classroom knowledge.

“Deep, actionable knowledge and decision-making skills develop when people have the chance to apply classroom theory in the real world with its messy complexity, time pressure, and irreversible consequences,” explains Sterman. “But project-based action learning in the field is not possible in settings where the stakes are high or the consequences of decisions unfold over years or decades. For many of the critical issues we face, simulation becomes the main way we can discover for ourselves how complex systems work and develop the management and leadership skills we need to succeed.”

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