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June 19, 2008

Liveblogging the CALI Conference 2008: Simulated Practice in-depth

SIMPLE is a system for authoring and managing practice simulations for professional learning, especially practices that are document- and transaction-centered. SIMPLE can, for example, articulate a multi-party negotiation, collaborative drafting of documents, complex litigation, etc.

Some articles about SIMPLE:

Pedagogy of simulations

Often, students are coming in from essay/exam-based undergraduate course: thus some transitional learning is critical. At Strathclyde, lectures have been largely designed out in favor of transactional learning, with rare lectures focused on dynamic speakers. Otherwise, knowledge-transmission is pushed into webcasts/podcasts between sessions.

(More after the break)

-- Gene Koo

Overview of the SIMPLE interface

Student logs in and sees, essentially, an inbox of documents/communications related to one transaction, with calendar and tasks (much like Outlook). There's also a document bank (like Google Docs) that include documents, map of the fictional town where the simulation takes place, websites for fictional firms and companies, etc.

Backstage, teachers have a list of characters within the simulation and can assume that role. There's also a list of variables that allow the simulation to be modified in small but important ways to make each instance of the simulation unique (which doubles as a plagiarism-catching device). A Narrative Event Diagram shows how the transaction proceeds from the perspective of the staff, Non-Player Characters (staff puppets), Player Characters, and critical events that pop up.


Student work is assessed as normal -- usually they submit a specific document like a motion or a memo. Feedback goes back to the student in role of the managing partner.

Students also conduct self- and peer-assessment, which provides early warning signals about slackers within teams. They also log times, much like they bill hours in practice.

Logistics of simulations

Simulations have generally run between 1-2 days to 12 weeks. This may have ripple effects on other courses: could their simulation activities suck up all of their time from other classes? It's a disruptive technology that changes everything about how teaching/learning happens.

What does this do to teaching? The instructors and mentors are essentially role-playing, responding to student-driven actions with more information (or mis-information) and documents.

(Note that in Glasgow, there are only TWO (2) full-time faculty for 270 students).

Simulation design

The simulation is designed to highlight particular areas of knowledge as well as specific skills. This would include "traps," such as one party having the wrong location for an accident requiring more investigation (or wasting resources pursuing a red herring).

Simulations are also built around "standardized clients" -- a term borrowed from medicine, in which "standardized patients" provide a common experience for all students that hits important learning points.

Simulations also need to catch students before they go off the track. Careful mentoring by the instructors should guide the firm (students) back on track, in-role as the students' supervisors. For example, in one case students tried to arrest funds at the bank, which would have taken the case out of bounds, so the tutors had to act in-role as the bank to reject the requests to steer the sim back.

(I would note that there is substantial overlap between designing a good simulation and designing a good computer game. See especially What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Learning.

Practice management sessions help students analyze and cope with inter-personal team issues.

Simulation sharing

Simulations "blueprints" are big capital investments -- it makes eminent sense for teachers to share and modify them.

What does it take to make SIMPLE happen?
Two ways to interact with SIMPLE that do not require technical knowledge: (1) Build the simulation; (2) upload the simulation to the platform. The authoring tools have been simplified to allow laypeople to create simulations.

Thus, requires up-front investment in creating the simulation, which can be capital intensive.

However, in terms of ongoing execution, it only requires 1 Professor, 8 Mentors (post-grad adjuncts) -- the simulation requires little upkeep and maintenance. The Mentors play the various roles in the simulation, from the parties to the firm partners to shopkeepers or even unexpected characters.

June 19, 2008 in Conferences, Teaching -- pedagogy, Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink


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