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Action Mazes

On the pages which follow, you will find a crude specimen of a decision (or action) maze, based on the scenario of acting as a mentor to a new member of lecturing staff in higher education, and taking you through the equivalent of about an hour of discussion with her. You can skip straight to the start if you must (the link is at the bottom of this page rather than here, in the futile hope that you will read this bumph first!)

The pedagogic (or andragogic or gynaegogic) rationale of decision mazes is the creation of a simulated situation which mimics the strategic decision-making of real life. It is a form of problem-based learning, in that respect. In this example, it explores (rather two-dimensionally, of course) the kind of situation which could also be the topic of a role-play. However:

  • role-play is very difficult to deliver on-line. 
  • and each one differs because the "client"/ "mentee"/ "interviewee"/ "patient" may well respond differently depending on who is taking the role 

In the maze, all the responses are pre-determined, and the only variable is the practice of the professional involved. This makes it particularly suitable for comparing the strategies of different individuals.

Mazes can be designed convergently in order to check that set procedures are followed, and that all relevant information is gathered or passed on. Thus the scenario of a grievance or complaints procedure, or a focused information-gathering or diangostic interview could be devised to ensure that required or best practice protocols are followed.

They can also - as in this example - be designed divergently. There are no "right" or "wrong" outcomes, here. Instead, the question is one of opportunity costing: the price of the mentoring session you do have is all those you could have had but did not. Is passing on hints and tips to a new colleague more or less valuable than getting at her underlying motivations and assumptions? (I won't go on - it would spoil the story.)  In other words, was this the best use of an hour?

Although the use of hyperlinks on a web page - with the potential, given the resources, to expand to video clips and beyond - might seem ideal for this kind of maze, it is actually rather limiting. The example which follows started life as a set of 8x5 cards in a file box. It was used with a group of participants (with duplicate cards for those which were used most frequently). After having been given the starting situation and the available options, and a sheet for logging responses, each participant would go to the box and pull out the card indicated. He or she would return to their seat, decide on the next move, and then stand in line to replace the current card and get a new one. The queueing process was actually quite useful: it slowed down the decision-making and promoted reflection and discussion between participants. In the review of the exercise, participants could exchange stories about the sessions they had had, with each other, compare and evaluate their outcomes, and reflect on their priorities in mentoring. On one course, (with a slightly different scenario of professional supervision in social work) my co-facilitator took the box home with her and spent until 2 a.m. trying to undertake the "best" session.

It has to be said that developing these mazes takes a long, long time. I have set an arbitrary limit of 100 cards/pages to mine: with three or four choices per card, this yields almost half-a-million potential routes. Multiplying the outcomes is not a problem, but containing them is. It may be necessary to introduce loops (if you try out the example, you will probably find the index number of the page going down as often as it goes up). Strands need to converge. You need to present opportunities for the participant to change tack, and so on. So far I do not know of any template for their construction, but if you do, please enlighten me.

The present example has been used (tested?) about 20 times, and modified after each "run". It still has problems, and you may discover them. The protagonist is psychologically crude and rather labile - as yet I do not know how to make her more subtle. Initially the responses were to be categorised by Heron's "6-category intervention analysis" schema, but that did not work in practice, and so other themes were chosen (there are ways of finding out more about these when you have completed the maze). Still, try it out and let me know your reactions. Even better, get some friends or colleagues to try it with you, use the log sheets, compare and discuss the results, and then let me know.

Legalistic bumph: In the unlikely event that you want to use the example itself for your own courses, please respect my copyright. I have no problem with its use in not-for-profit situations (including mainstream courses in accredited educational institutions) as long as you give me some feedback. I can provide materials for the low-tech version, and would try (but not undertake unequivocally) to do so if you ask. If you are working in a for-profit situation, please check with me first. If you think I could help with advice on developing your own mazes, please get in touch.

See also:

maze software)

© James Atherton
13 December 2001

OK - proceed!