The ginseng game

depletion. In the absence of restraint, oversight or collective governance, people and societies do a poor job balancing short-term consumption with the needs of the collective good. People The Ginseng Game is designed to teach the principles generally and societies tend to over emphasize short term benefits and associated with the tragedy of the commons and specifically with competition in industries susceptible to resource depletion. The game explicitly uses competitive forces to encourage groups to THE PROBLEM OF SHORT TERM THINKING
escalate commitment to short term profits while visually People and organizations do a poor job balancing short-term conveying resource depletion. Student teams must use the and long-term needs and desires. We tend to over emphasize available information, “out of the box” critical thinking, short term gains at the expense of long term needs. Over problem solving, coordination, and cooperation to achieve the harvesting is a historic problem that has caused problems in both objective of long term industry sustainability. The game and the fishing and timer industries. The short term gains produced debriefing can be run in a single class session. It can be by over fishing or clear cut timber harvesting emphasize the delivered with or without computer presentation (game incentives inherent in the tragedy of the commons. Many other computations must be performed with the game’s MS Excel problems of short term thinking can be explained using the spreadsheet). The instructor calculates industry harvest and team performance data with an excel spreadsheet and may Historically, human societies have caused (Diamond, 1997) display that information with or without the aid of a presentation and continue to cause the extinctions of many animal species. The extinction of such species as the Flores Cave Rat, the Desert Rat-kangaroo, the Dodo Bird, the Labrador Duck, the Passenger INTRODUCTION
Pigeon, and many others (IUCN, 2008) speak to the human propensity to put short interests ahead of long term The phenomena of short term thinking and profit taking is a considerations. If there are economic benefits to be gained, problem that plagues many industries to the detriment of individuals and businesses may act in ways to gain those customers, businesses and society. There are many examples. benefits even if environmental damage occurs. The benefits are The tendency to mismanage natural resources preceded failures generally private, short-term, and significant, while the costs in the timber and fishing industries. The management of animal accrue to society and are long-term and smaller in effect to those populations and the environment are two areas where small short who gained the benefit. Additional examples occur in business. term benefits drive behavior that ignores large long term costs. The desirability of strip mining is strongly offset by the In the last decade, failures in corporate governance, fraudulent ecological damage borne by the rest of society yet mining accounting, and most recently the failure to think about society’s companies would still engage in the practice if it wasn’t for long-term well being in financial markets highlight the need to strong governmental regulation. The fact that strip mining teach business students the perils of putting short term profits occurred at all is because the economic gains to mining companies were significant and the social costs of ecological damage were borne by the local community after the mining THE TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS (Hardin, 1968)
The tragedy of the commons exists when individuals derive In the last two decades, the phenomena of short term profit personal benefit from collectively owned resources that are taking is reflected in the collapse of the mortgage and banking subject to depletability and those individuals act to secure that industries. (Steverman & Bogoslaw, 2008) This failure occurred benefit at the expense of the common good. The lack of explicit because speculators wrote and sold mortgage contracts that were private ownership sets up conditions where each individual has lucrative to them but risky to mortgagees. Successful an incentive to consume as much of the resources as possible in speculators exited the industry long before the financial collapse order to maximize their individual situation, even if at the by selling the mortgages to established mortgage brokers who expense of the collective good. (Coase, 1937, 1960) Without later suffered when mortgagees could no longer make payments. some form of restraint, oversight, or collective governance, this Each of these problems reflects the problem of short-term results in a race to consume the resources and eventual resource thinking and the lack of attention to sustainability. This game is 312 | Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, Volume 36, 2009
intended to teach students about competition in industries commercial enterprises as taught in colleges of business) and susceptible to a fixation on short term thinking and characterized industry sustainability (an explicit goal). If students perceive by the potential for resource depletion. conflicting goals, the instructor could ask probing questions to help the students explore industry preserving alternatives. OVERVIEW OF GAME
Students will be provided the players manual in advance of This game is based on Fish Banks Ltd, 1990, by Dennis the game and instructed to become familiar with the game when Meadows (Meadows, 1990). The author’s experience with Fish Banks is that every student group exterminates the fish population and destroys the long term profitability of the The sequence of activities is as follows: industry. The Ginseng Game is intended to provide a similar 1. Form Teams - Form the class into 4-8 teams of 4-5 industry situation but with a greater likelihood that the students players each. To ensure some measure of group will recognize the problems associated with resource activity, discussion, argument, decision making, and depleteability and take corrective action before long term consensus, the groups should have a minimum of 3 profitability is destroyed. This is the first iteration of this game players. To prevent the free rider problem, team size and the game has not yet been tested in the classroom.
should not exceed 6 players. 4-5 teams seem optimum, while managing 6-8 is more difficult administratively. STUDENT LEARNING OBJECTIVES
2. Each team will make planning decisions in advance of 1. Students will learn to identify the characteristics of each harvesting season. These decisions will be: 1) industries susceptible to resource depletion and be able to how many new trainees to hire for the season, how much capacity to add for the season, and to develop a 2. Students will learn to identify market and industry harvesting strategy for 5-10 year old ginseng. incentives that encourage short term thinking and a fixation 3. At the end of each season, the instructor will provide the harvesting results based on a computerized model of 3. Students will experience the competitive pressures of short term profit taking in an industry susceptible to resource 4. Students will play the game for up 7 seasons. At the depletion and either, a) learn to act proactively or reactively instructor’s discretion, students may be asked to to prevent industry demise, or b) experience the failure so provide seasonal plans for several sequential rounds. 5. There are two ways to end the game. In the first version, the instructor will preannounce a specific BASIC DATA
round in which the game will end. This will be referred Instructional objective: To teach problem solving skills to as the “game with a distinct ending.” In the second associated with competition in industries with depletable version, the instructor will preannounce the last round in which teams will produce a harvesting plan but that Game objectives: To teach students to engage in strategic this final plan will be carried forward into future rounds. conduct that ensures industry sustainability and long term This will be referred to as the “continuing game.” In profitability, and to understand the problems associated with this case, team performance will be extrapolated for a fixation on short term thinking and profitability. several additional rounds and the effect of those plans Target audience: Graduate and undergraduate students. A comparison of the differences produced by the two Number of players: 4-6 teams of 2-5 people per team. different game endings, listed in 5 above, will illustrated how the Materials required: Players handbook (Appendix 2), Game different incentive act on managerial decision making. Based on software, Plastic graduated container with beads past use of similar games, many student groups allow the representing stock of wild ginseng, company worksheets competitive format of the game to drive decision making. (included at end of Players Handbook), pencils or pens, each Surpassing rival teams becomes the de facto objective to the detriment of the games true objective of long term industry Equipment/room setup required: The instructor will require the use of a computer with Microsoft Excel. Game data can be As an instructor, there is a strong tendency to want to save displayed using an electronic presentation system, a dry the students from failure. This game is just as likely to teach students through success as it is to teach through failure. The instructor is admonished to allow students to make their own OBJECT OF THE GAME
choices and fail if their choices are deficient. Even if students From the student’s perspective, the object of the game is to destroy the market for Ginseng, they can be made to learn from ensure long term sustainable profitability of the WV Wild Ginseng industry. This objective should be stated at the beginning of play and reiterated if students ask during the game. From the instructor’s perspective, the object of the game is DEBRIEFING
Wolfe and Byrne observe that the most important part of a to allow students to deal with the apparently conflicting game specifically, and experiential learning in general, is the objectives of profit maximization (the implicit goal of debriefing (Wolfe & Byrne, 1975). The debriefing is the place
313 | Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, Volume 36, 2009
to create the learning linkages between thinking and doing. REFERENCES
Games are generally fun. They involve an objective, action, and results. They are remembered. If the instructor can help the Coase Ronald, 1937. The nature of the firm. Econometrica, student create a linkage between the game and theory, the student will retain the theoretical information long term. It is Coase, Ronald, 1960. The problem of social cost. Journal of necessary for the instructor to help the student create the linkage, as opposed to telling the student about the relevance of the Diamond, Jared, 1997. Guns Germs and Steel: The Fates of game, in order for the student to apply it in the future. Even if Human Societies. W. W. Norton and Company, London, students fail, there is value in learning why and how they failed. Failure is painful and humiliating. Students will remember it. Hardin, Garrett, 1968. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science, Failure teaches students the causes of failure and how to avoid it IUCN, 2008. International Union for the Conservation of Nature. USING GAMES TO TEACH THEORY
Meadows, Dennis, 1990. Fishbanks Ltd. Laboratory for The Theoretical Model that underlies the game is the Interactive Learning, Institute for Policy and Social Science same resource depletion model as is used in other games such as the Fish Banks (Meadows, 1990). The Tragedy of the Commons Steverman, Ben, & David Bogoslaw2008. The Financial Crisis (Hardin, 1968) is the general phenomena that describes why Blame Game. Business Week, October 18, 2008 individuals act contrary to the public good. In addition to Wolfe, Douglas E. & Eugene T. Byrne, 1975. Research on various games that illustrate the tragedy of the commons, the Experiential Learning: Enhancing the Process. Business instructor can use the specific example of the prisoners dilemma Games and Experiential Learning in Action, 2: 325-336. or more general examples provided by economic game theory. The data related to both ginseng and the market for ginseng are largely accurate with minor generalizations for ease of game CONCLUSION
play. Data was extracted from the following sources: This game is intended to provide students with a more visual representation of the stock of renewable resources upon which an industry in dependent. It is hoped that the visual cues APPENDIX A:
will inspire students to be more aware of the nature of depletable THE WEST VIRGINIA WILD GINSENG GAME
resources and that this awareness will engage their problem PLAYERS MANUAL
solving abilities so they come up with alternatives that allow them to achieve the games objective of long term industry MARKET FOR GINSENG
Ginseng is a slow growing herbaceous perennial plant with a large fleshy root that resembles a small parsnip. It is found in SAMPLE DEBRIEFING QUESTIONS
both Asia and North America in mountainous temperate zones. 1. In this game, did you cause the extermination of wild Ginseng requires dense shade and good drainage on hillsides. It ginseng in West Virginia? If so, why? What incentives does not grow well in flat areas. It can be cultivated but encouraged you to do so? What incentive acted to restrain generally takes 5 or more years to reach maturity which reduces you from short term profit taking? If you left the industry in its desirability as a crop plant. Ginseng is also considered a high a sustainable condition, how did you overcome the risk because it is highly susceptible to mice, wild turkey, molds, slugs, fungi, rot, and theft. Ginseng can live up to 80 years. 2. When did you realize that this game was not solely a game Roots generally grow significantly in mature plants reaching lengths of 4-6 inches. The ginseng root is highly valued for its 3. What was the role of industry cooperation in the game? 4. What was the role of regulatory oversight or other outside Ginseng is believed to have distinctive medical and curative effects and is highly valued by those who practice homeopathic 5. What are the general conditions under which industries will medicine. Various studies have attempted to validate the beneficial effects of ginseng on sexual potency and libido, 6. Provide examples of industries susceptible to resource longevity, diabetes, influenza, and cancer. Controlled scientific studies of the medical efficacy of ginseng are rare and those that 7. How can industries be protected from resource depletion exist are of questionable scientific accuracy. Despite this lack of proof, ginseng has been a staple in oriental medicine for 8. Given the lessons learned from the game and examples in centuries and is growing in worldwide popularity. the real world, is industry self-regulation a viable method Ginseng has been known in China for over 5000 years and used as a cure-all for 3000 years. In traditional Chinese 9. Given the lessons learned from the game and examples in medicine, Asian ginseng is viewed has having Yang and the the real world, is government regulation a viable method for North American ginseng is viewed as having Yin. Beneficial effects are optimized when combined in the proper proportions. 10. What other solutions might exist to prevent resource This creates a demand for ginseng from both regions. Most North American ginseng is produced in Canada in Ontario and British Columbia and in the USA in Wisconsin. 314 | Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, Volume 36, 2009
Ginseng Harvesting Efficiency

Ginseng Density
Wild ginseng is ginseng that is not planted or cultivated but YOUR COMPANY
instead found growing wild wherever pollinated seeds take root. While there are a significant number of independent Woods grown ginseng is ginseng that is planted from seed and harvesters of wild ginseng, your company is one of only a few left to grow wild in the woods. Wild ginseng is believed to have commercial operations operating in West Virginia. You greater beneficial properties than cultivated ginseng. Wild currently have 10 employees who are experienced harvesters. ginseng is becoming quite rare due very high demand, over Each employee is capable of finding and processing 40 Kg of harvesting, and dwindling supply. Market values for dried wild ginseng each season. You have a processing, drying and storage ginseng can exceed $1000 per kilogram. The market value for facility with a seasonal capacity of 600 Kg of ginseng each year. woods grown ginseng is slightly lower than wild ginseng. In You cannot take in more than 600 kg without purchasing and North America, both wild ginseng and woods grown ginseng are found in Maine, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West WV WILD GINSENG ANNUAL HARVEST
Ginseng plants reproduce after reaching 4 years old. The annual ginseng harvest depends on the number of The red berries that form on mature plants each produce two trained workers engaged in harvesting operations and their seeds. These berries must undergo two seasons before seed harvesting efficiency. Harvesting efficiency is determined by germination can occur. Ginseng farmers germinate berries by factors such as the density of wild ginseng, ginseng burying them in sand for one full year before replanting in soil reproduction, the amount of time ginseng is left to grow, the suitable for ginseng growing. Younger plants produce fewer occurrence of blight and other ginseng diseases, and the weather. berries while older plants produce many more. Continuous harvesting of 5 year old wild ginseng has a detrimental effect on PRICE PER KG
the ginseng population because of a reduction in the number of Dried wild ginseng sells for about $800/kg. Dried woods- the older plants that produce larger quantities of berries. cultivated ginseng sells for about $500/kg. Dried cultivated ginseng sells for about $50/kg. The price per kilogram of WILD GINSENG IN WEST VIRGINIA
ginseng is determined by an auction market made up of national Ginseng has been harvested in West Virginia for over 200 and international ginseng buyers. Since the total amount of years. Ginseng grows wild on public and private lands of West ginseng produced by West Virginia is a small percentage of the Virginia. Harvesting on public lands in state parks, state forests, global total, West Virginian production has little effect on global and nature areas is illegal but is legal on other public lands. Harvesting on private land is permitted with the owner’s written It is illegal to harvest ginseng plants that are less than five permission. Harvesting is legal from 1 September to 30 years old. The age of ginseng plants can be estimated from the November. Only plants that are 5 years old, identified by having number of leaf prongs, the number of berries, and the size of the 3 leaf prongs, and older are permitted for harvesting. Harvesters plant. Five year old ginseng is identified by having at least three are required to replant the seeds from ginseng plants in the spot leaf prongs and ten year old ginseng is identified by having four where harvested. Ginseng must be either 1) sold to a registered ginseng dealer by 31 March of each year following its harvest, The dried weight of ginseng roots increase, by almost 50% or 2) certified by the WV Department of Forestry by obtaining a per year. Since older plants have substantially larger roots it weight receipt which must be kept with the ginseng. It is illegal potentially desirable to delay harvesting as long as possible. to possess ginseng between 31 March and 31 August without a This delay is problematic because mature ginseng can be weight receipt. Steep fines and prison time are the typical harvested by any company. A mature year-old-plant passed up punishment for violating ginseng harvesting regulations. These by one company may be harvested later that season or in the regulations are intended to allow regeneration of wild ginseng. next by another company. Another problem is that older ginseng is more susceptible to molds, fungi, and specific diseases. The 315 | Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, Volume 36, 2009
Ginseng Replenishment
Carrying Capacity (%)
older plants can more easily transmit diseases to younger plants, LAYOFFS AND TRANSFERS
Your company may reduce its labor force at any time by For these reasons, harvesters may pass up some mature terminating harvesters. These employees may seek employment ginseng that is over five years old but they rarely pass up ten at a rival ginseng business anytime within a year and be hired as year-old-plants. Harvesting plans generally call for the a fully trained harvester. These employees are free agents and collection of a specific percentage of ginseng roots of various may cause several rival businesses to offer a one-time hiring ages; e.g. A plan might call for the collection of 50% of five bonus for the privilege of hiring them. You may not lay off a year-old-plants, 60% of 6 year-old-plants, 70% of 7 year-old- trainee or harvester in their first year of employment. plants, etc. This type of plan leaves some older ginseng to be harvested in future years. It also leave open the possibility that LABOR AND EQUIPMENT
rivals might harvest in the same areas and clean out all the Whether trained or not, you spend $20,000/year on your ginseng leaving you no older plant for the future employees in the form of wages and equipment. INTEREST INCOME
If you have a positive bank balance at the end of the season, Ginseng processing, storage, and drying requires specialized the bank will pay you interest equal to 10% of your bank equipment. This equipment may be homemade or manufactured to order. Each 100 kg/year capacity manufactured unit requires a recurring annual expense of $5000/year. Each 100 kg/year TOTAL REVENUE
capacity homemade unit requires a recurring annual expense of The total annual revenue for your company is your total $8000/year. This equipment may be traded with other ginseng harvest in kilograms multiplied by $1000 plus the interest INTEREST EXPENSE
If you have a negative bank balance at the end of the season, You start the game with 10 trained employees. Your trained the bank will charge you interest equal to 15% of your bank employees are capable of harvesting 40 Kg of ginseng per season. Trained employees know how to identify wild ginseng, are knowledgeable of the locations where ginseng can be found, TOTAL EXPENSES
and can determine the rough age of ginseng so that immature The total annual expenses for your company are the sum of plants are left unmolested or that mature plants can be left to labor costs, new capacity purchases, recurring capacity costs, EMPLOYEE TRAINING
It takes a full year of one-on-one training under the direct supervision of a trained harvester to become competent at Your profits are equal to your Revenues minus your ginseng harvesting, processing, and drying. During the training Expenses. At the end of each season your Cumulative Bank period a trainee provides negligible additional capacity over the Balance and Annual Profit will be compared with the other trained harvester. The one-on-one nature of the training means that your company may never hire more trainees than it has PLANNING: NUMBER OF NEW HIRES
New employees require a year to become independently productive. During their first year, new employees work 316 | Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, Volume 36, 2009
alongside an experienced employee, learning where to find 7. At the beginning of the season, send workers out to ginseng, how to determine ginseng’s age, how to properly harvest ginseng and replant the seeds, and how to prepare 8. At the end of the season, your instructor will provide ginseng for market. During this year they must be paid. On balance, new employees do some work but distract from the 9. Reconcile your annual revenues and expenses to experienced worker by the same amount, resulting in virtually determine your end of season bank balance. no net gain in harvesting capacity. It is in an employee’s second and subsequent years that they start contributing to the ginseng ORDER OF FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS
For computational purposes, financial transactions will be as At the beginning of each year, the company must determine the number of new employees they will train in the upcoming 1. Start the year with your bank balance carried from the year. These new hires sign a contract that guarantees them employment during the training period and for at least one 2. Pay for new homemade capacity intended for this additional year. Once trained, all harvesters have roughly the 3. Calculate the financial effect of equipment trades. PLANNED NEW PROCESSING FACILITIES AND
5. Your instructor will provide you with the results of the You need to determine how much, if any, new ginseng 6. Calculate revenue from the sale of ginseng harvest. processing capacity you intend to add each year. This 7. Pay for new manufactured capacity ordered for next equipment may be homemade or manufactured to order. One local provider of manufactured equipment can produce highly 8. Calculate interest revenue or expenses based on end of effective units for far less than you can make them. Each manufactured unit with a 100 kg/year capacity initially costs $20,000 to order. Homemade units can be made for about $30,000. Each manufactured unit of equipment must be ordered REFERENCES USED IN DESIGN OF GAME
one year in advance to provide time for the manufacturer to build the equipment, ship it to the buyer, and set it up. The following sources were used to design the game. The Homemade equipment can be made and used during the current data related to both ginseng and the market for ginseng are largely accurate with minor generalizations for ease of game PLANNED HARVESTING
Because older ginseng grows to a larger size and therefore Carroll, Chip & Dave Apsley, 2008. Growing American earns significantly more revenue when sold, you can set Ginseng in Ohio: An Introduction. . Accessed 2 Nov 2008. harvesting goals which your harvesters will implement. You can specify the percentages of 5-10 year old ginseng that your Ginseng Season 2006. Accessed 2 Nov 2008. harvesters will collect. If you specify a harvesting target for six year old ginseng of 60%, that effectively means your harvesters Harding’s Ginseng Farm, 2008. Company website. 11 Sep will collect about 60% of the six year old ginseng they find and leave 40% for future seasons. You will specify harvesting targets for ginseng in the rang fro 5-10 years old. It is unusual to Redorbit, 2005. Feds' Ginseng Report Could Reduce Harvest. find ginseng older than 10 years old, so your harvesting target for 10 year old ginseng is effectively 100%. STEPS OF PLAY
Scott, John A., Jr., Sam Rogers, and David Cooke, 1995. 1. Lay off workers from previous season. Woods-Grown Ginseng. Jun 1995. Accessed 2 Nov 2008. 3. Chose the number of new harvesters to hire. Wikipedia, 2008. Ginseng. Accessed 2 Nov 2008. 5. Chose the amount of new capacity to purchase or build WV Division of Forestry, 2001. Ginseng digging season runs from Sept. 1 through Nov. 30. Accessed 2 Nov 2008. 6. Determine your harvesting plan for the upcoming 317 | Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, Volume 36, 2009
Company Name:
Preseason Season 1
New Manufactured Capacity (Kg) purchased 318 | Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, Volume 36, 2009
Company Name:
Season 10
Season 11
Season 12
Season 13
Season 14
Season 15
Total Revenue ($USD)
Total Expenses ($USD)
319 | Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, Volume 36, 2009
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