Involving students in managing the simulation can give students a sense of ownership of the training, and thereby increase their investment in making it work effectively. For the use of student assistants to work well, however, the instructor needs to be very organized and provide clear instructions. Especially in simulations that may involve physical force or use of training weapons, safety is paramount. An assistant who does not fully understand his or her role as a safety officer is an injury waiting to happen.
A third way to involve students indirectly in a simulation is to have them observe how the simulation plays out and then participate in the critique or "after action review" of the simulation. This option can mean that one simulation can become an effective learning tool not only for the two or three student officers who participate, but also for the many more who watch.
Whenever students are asked to observe and critique others, they automatically look at the situation from a different perspective. It's often said that the best way to learn something is to teach it. By serving as an evaluator, students become quasi-teachers--and they learn from one another's mistakes. The student officer who went through the simulation reaps the benefit of multiple reviewers--some of whom may catch things the instructor missed.
Be prepared for each simulation debriefing to take more time if you use multiple evaluators. Everyone will have comments to offer, and sometimes people will have differing opinions as to whether the student officer acted properly. You may not be able to keep to a rigorous schedule, but the participants will learn from the discussion, even if they don't always agree.
All this assumes that you have one simulation going at a time. When the next pair of student officers is ready to go, you must either change the simulation entirely or just have a variation, so that it is not exactly the same each time. Remember, you want your scenarios to be winnable, but not too easy. After a student has watched two or three others go through a particular simulation, especially if he or she has been an evaluator, the surprise is gone, and with it, much of the challenge. Keep the situation new--or at least unpredictable.
If you are conducting simulations for testing rather than training, you cannot use these techniques to occupy your students when they are not directly participating as student officers. For testing to be fair, the experience needs to be as close as possible to the same for each person undergoing the test. Obviously, if you are using more or less the same simulation, the first students to see it are at a disadvantage. And if you use different simulations each time, it is difficult to ensure that they all test the same things and provide equal levels of challenge.
When you do simulation testing, the best option is to have several stations set up with different scenarios. Students then rotate from one to the next. Setting it up this way allows you to test different aspects of the law enforcement officer's job. For example, you can have one simulation that requires deadly force decision-making, and another that tests officers' interviewing skills. Still another may require physical control of a subject when deadly force is not appropriate.
While a multi-station simulation round-robin is ideal, it presents two difficulties: it requires a lot of personnel and very tight scheduling
If you have a class of 18, for example, you would ideally want to have at least four or five stations, and six would be even better. That way, at any given time, at least half of your students would be actively involved in working a simulation, with the others either traveling between stations or on break. But that would require a cadre of instructors and role players at least as large as the class! Few academies and even fewer in-service trainings have those numbers of personnel available. Even if you have enough people, they need to adhere to the schedule--if one of the stations runs long, because of a more detailed debriefing or an unexpected "plot twist," the slowdown backs up all the rest.
You can handle this problem one of two ways. The first alternative is to split the group in half so that one half is going through simulations and the other half is doing some classroom-based activity. Then the groups switch. If you only have nine students to put through simulations, you can have only three stations and keep everyone more or less busy.