SIMPLE

The research and innovation team are seeking pilots in law, management and social work using a PHP based open source and learning simulation system as part of SIMPLE's "second wave’, and becoming part of the emerging SIMPLE community of practice. The project has strong links with a sister project in the Netherlands, whose simulation environment is a virtual town called Cyberdam (previously known as Sieberdam). “The SIMPLE application allows simulated transactions, placing students in an appropriate professional context, and has the potential to deepen student learning”.



The SIMPLE environment


‘virtual learning environments (VLEs)’ are generic systems, designed to be applicable to all disciplines. SIMPLE is different. It is an interdisciplinary simulation environment designed to help students learn by doing. Students can thus learn by doing professional transactions, whatever their discipline or profession. SIMPLE achieves this by giving staff the tools to create simulations, and gives students the simulation environment within which they can communicate with clients or patients and other professionals, carry out transactions on behalf of clients, patients and others, and practise and learn from the transactions appropriate to their discipline or profession. A unique learning environment that is directly applicable to the work you do on the rest of your course, at either undergraduate or postgraduate level can be accessed anywhere there is a web browser, and anytime. In this way, we are seeking to make this form of learning as flexible as possible for students.
The SIMPLE platform consists of two main elements:



  • A virtual town


The town can be represented on the web in three ways: History, it will have a modest description of its geographical and historical ; Map, town can have so has a map, from which you can open web sites and obtain information but more easily can simply be a directory from which students can use the directory to find people, institutions or businesses within the town.


  • Virtual office

This is, in effect, your office on the web. Each office contains all tools and functions students need to communicate with each other, with fictional characters in the town, with tutors and anyone else. Within it, students can store work, correspondence and drafts, log group-work, use calendars and task lists, and use style banks where appropriate.


Simulation Learning


In a sense the work students will undertake is a version of learning by simulation. Flight simulators are now a normal and
essential way of teaching pilots to fly; engineering students use simulations to help them understand airfoil design and
modelling; medical students use role play and simulated patients to help them understand communications and the
application of medical science, while medical and pharmacological students now use computer simulations of
experiments and procedures, many with interactive and self-test features. Most university disciplines have their own
versions. In Law, for instance you’ll be learning how to negotiate by actuall
y negotiating; how to complete a Private Client
matter by actually winding up a deceased client’s estate; how to convey property by carrying out a purchase and a
sale of domestic property, and how to act for a client in a court action. In all of this, learning by doing can be a powerful
and more effective method of learning than listening to a series of lectures on theory and practice, learning to work with others on practical tasks --
an essential feature of professional life, use professional forms of ICT – many professions now use intranets and email or web-based communications to
communicate within the office and between offices and between clients and other professionals; Social Work offices
have specific case-
based software; architects use specialist tools for graphical communication. students will also be practising
letter writing, to a variety of audiences and on a variety of matters, and you will almost certainly want to convey different
attitudes: polite neutral business tone, warm, engaging, cool, distant, distancing, assertive, forthright, clear
– the list is
long.



Transactional Learning

Learning in SIMPLE can be summarised by the phrase ‘transactional learning’ and below are some of the ways designed it into SIMPLE.
Transactional learning is active learning, not passive. In that sense, students will be involved in activities within
professional cases and roles, rather than standing back from the actions and merely learning about them.


  • Learning to do professional transactions
  • Transaction + reflection


Transactional learning involves thinking about transactions, thinking across transactions. It includes the ability to rise
above detail, and ‘helicopter’ above a transaction; or, to take another example, the ability to dis
-engage yourself from
potentially damaging views of the group process, and reconstruct that view. Reflection while you are doing a
transaction helps you understand what’s happening and why. Reflection after a transaction can increase this
understanding, and help students remember the principles and abstract concepts students have learned on other parts of a
course.



Collaborative learning



Transaction as collaboration, indicating the root of the word: literally ‘acting across’... Students are valuable resources
for each other. There is of course a place for individual learning, silent study, literature review and so on. But students
can help each other enormously to understand disciplinary concepts and procedures by discussing issues, reviewing
actions in a group, giving peer feedback on work undertaken in the group, and so on. Such group work is essential to
SIMPLE.



Ethical and Holistic process learning



In seminars and lectures and reading of texts, students engage with ideas, and form understandings of concepts and
processes, learning proceeds by chunks, Professional learning is different. As a professional, you learn to do things to certain
standards for others
– typically, clients or patients. When trainees first start work, they can identify the micro-elements of a transaction (eg what a form or letter is for) but if they are given a file, they may find it difficult to see where that form or letter might be used (or mis-used), or what might be needed to be
done next in an incomplete file. When they first start, trainees are also predictably poor at realising what might be
wrong with the file; and their contextual sense of ethical awareness is not well-developed. This is hardly surprising: they
lack a sense of the rhythm of a transaction as a whole, and the contextual awareness that that knowledge gives them. As
a result, they find it difficult to move quickly and intuitively from part to whole, and from whole to part.


Transactional learning emphasises holistic and process learning; but students don’t need to wait until they enter a professional office in order to understand transaction as SIMPLE will allow students to practice part-to-whole and whole-to-part thinking, practise forward reasoning (‘If I do x, y & z, what will happen next to my client / patient?’) and backward reasoning (‘I want to achieve a & b: how can I do that most effectively in this case?’).


Assessment



SIMPLE is both a learning zone and an assessment zone. Assessments in SIMPLE look like coursework, and the nature of the work undertaken in professional disciplines is very diverse, so it makes sense that assessment by simulation ought to be diverse, too. SIMPLE has been designed to take account of this diversity, both within transactions (no two are ever exactly the same...) and across professions.