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The use of tabletop exercises in nuclear security education

Michael Shattan (Department of Nuclear Engineering, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA) (Institute for Nuclear Security, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)
Adam Seybert (Department of Nuclear Engineering, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)
Robert Boone Gilbreath (Department of Physics and Nuclear Engineering, US Military Academy, West Point, New York, USA) (Department of Nuclear Engineering, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)
Stephen Dahunsi (Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and the Institute for Nuclear Security, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)
Howard L. Hall (Department of Nuclear Engineering, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA) (Institute for Nuclear Security, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

ISSN: 2050-7003

Article publication date: 14 June 2018

Issue publication date: 19 June 2018

90

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of tabletop exercises (TTXs) in graduate nuclear security education, their effectiveness and their relationship to traditional forms of classroom instruction. The paper highlights both the benefits and challenges of TTX implementation—the former including higher student motivation and material retention, and the latter including motivational shifts toward “winning” and possible student exclusionary behavior.

Design/methodology/approach

Survey results from 49 former students in a US university were collected electronically and combined with anecdotal evidence from student, facilitator and teaching assistant interviews following five iterations of a specifically designed, semester-long, TTX case study. The case study focused on securing a fictional nuclear facility.

Findings

Students found the TTX more memorable and retained more course material when asked to compare the TTX’s effectiveness to long-term course projects in other courses. Their in-class motivations tended to shift from traditional classroom motivations toward “winning,” and “not letting down their classmates.” In some iterations, students also observed classmates becoming more tempted to cheat or otherwise violate academic ethics. Mitigation strategies to prevent such temptations (e.g. removing direct student vs student TTX structures) were found to be effective.

Originality/value

This is the first report on the effective use of a semester-long TTX in a graduate nuclear security classroom. The flexibility of this instructional tool demonstrates its applicability to other classroom subjects including homeland security, emergency management, disease outbreak management and public policy among others.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank K.J. Maddux, Jeffrey Knot, Richard Parker and Michelle Pina from the Y-12 Nuclear Security Site for their ongoing support of the University of Tennessee’s nuclear security tabletop exercises.

Citation

Shattan, M., Seybert, A., Gilbreath, R.B., Dahunsi, S. and Hall, H.L. (2018), "The use of tabletop exercises in nuclear security education", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 344-356. https://doi.org/10.1108/JARHE-11-2017-0146

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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