SIMPLE Launch event – 9 & 10 June, 2008, Scarman House, U. of Warwick

by Paul Maharg on 11/06/2008

Proceedings opened with Patricia McKellar welcoming the 50 or so delegates to the conference, and previewing what folk would be seeing, namely the software we used, and the initial results from the projects that made up the larger SIMPLE project. Delegates included representatives from HEA and JISC as well as representatives from a broad span of disciplines who were interested in being part of the ‘second wave’ of SIMPLE (more of this below). I demonstrated one of the SIMPLE transactions on the GGSL website, namely Personal Injury, as an example of the functionality of the virtual office.

First up of the case studies from our participating institutions was Glamorgan Law School, presented by Karen Counsell. Her project description was remarkable. Among the points she made:
• Only two teams of four [out of 170 students, I think] failed to complete.
• Little group-work fall out.
• Students not good at hitting the interim deadlines for each stage.
• Negotiation phase did not work well. Had to go to Plan B.

There are a lot of issues arising from these points. It’s interesting that some of these were problems we had at GGSL. There is a surprising amount of engagement that happens because of the transactional elements, but the organisational issues are critical. Glamorgan staged the transaction, ie required that students complete once stage by a specific deadline before proceeding to the next – wisely so, because it was first year students who were players in the transaction, and the stages served to scaffold and organise what might otherwise have become a daunting transaction for them. We don’t, because we expect postgrad students to be able to organise their own work more efficiently, and draw upon prior learning. Other points:
• Unexpected uplift in course work results and examination results.
• Students responded well to pressure and liked the constant feedback.
• Students threw themselves in to the role play and expected fast turnaround.
• Staff able to hide behind their roles.
• Students able to actively engage with subject matter – they liked the project.
• No issues of plagiarism.
What was interesting across almost all the case studies was the increase in student results. We weren’t testing for this in the project with any degree of rigour (project aims were different), and therefore no conclusions can be definitively drawn on the matter; but it does seem as if learning by doing in SIMPLE actually increases student results in more traditional assessments. Hardly surprising when you think about it, since student engagement will nearly always result in greater learning; but I can’t tell you how heartening it was to hear this news. Karen will be extending her work into law and computing – she is convinced that the SIMPLE approach works well for students.

There were fascinating points were raised by Nick Johnson from Warwick when talking about the Warwick Law School scenario. He was asked what SIMPLE had added to the already sophisticated experience of the Legal Practice module in their LLB programme. Authenticity, he said, but it also tightened up the workings of the firms of students, and made the firms more professional in their communications with fictional characters and each other. It also provided a cumulative record of the file. While there were problems, Nick felt that it increased student learning, and he’ll be staying with and expanding the project, and streamlining aspects of it on the basis of this year’s experience.

After lunch, next up was Karen Barton, talking about how we turned our six projects at the GGSL into the SIMPLE environment. The problem was how to write our six projects (Conveyancing sale & purchase, Personal Injury, Civil Court Action, Practice Management, Private Client) into the new SIMPLE environment. It was a steep learning curve for us, particularly given the time constraints but with help from research assistants we managed to pull it all together in time for the Diploma programme in 2007-08. Apart from PI (which was assembled by myself, and one of our research assistants, Catriona Hunter, who was excellent at gathering the project resources) Karen played a hugely important role in this – all kudos to her for a remarkable piece of educational planning & implementation.

After Karen, Kate Cameron and Mel Cadman summarised the Social Work simulations at Strathclyde University, and the challenges that they encountered in implementing it. Kate mentioned the concept of authenticity again, as other speakers had used it, and how Ardcalloch could be used as a focus of resource-building for simulations (though Kate made the point that students don’t use the map as much as they would have thought – more of this below). Interesting assessment model, because the students are graded according to reflective reports as well as more substantive reports. Interesting points about management of the sim (they used a VLE, not SIMPLE, as there were problems in using SIMPLE for them) – it was good that challenges were acknowledged at the Launch event. Social Work also thought that the staffing model they had developed was very encouraging, and I agree. They have ambitious plans to develop simulation activities over the next year or so; and it’s clear that they’re taking simulation seriously as a mode of professional learning for Social Work students.

Next up was Emma Nicol talking about the Architecture project that was designed in SIMPLE by Andrew Agapiou in the School of Architecture in Strathclyde U. The simulation involved students acting as a team of architects building a new office block, ‘Bullgate House’, in Ardcalloch. It ran well, with good feedback from students on the experience of working through the simulation. Key lessons learned included the following:
• Student engagement with scenarios high.
• They liked remote aspect as meeting as a group not always easy.
• They liked building on work they’d done in previous scenarios and using knowledge from one to inform later interaction.
• There was negative feedback related to waiting for responses and also to the first scenario, which involved a heavier workload than subsequent scenarios.
• Scenario was excellent in introducing contracts, which many students had seen in practice but had never been allowed to handle themselves before.
• It was a chance to gain experience of a far bigger project than students would encounter as a project architect or technician.
• Students could now see contract and clauses from a contractor’s viewpoint
• Many students realised they had learned bad habits while in practice
• From tutor’s point of view, SIMPLE was an easy and effective way of communicating with students.

After Emma, Helyn Gould then described a Management Science project that she and a postgraduate student put together for first year Management Science students, outlining many aspects of practice that actually answered a number of points that had been raised by other presenters, eg expense, time, answering mail, etc. Other points she made:
• Use of the system by students was a little variable
• Student engagement with issues in the scenario was fairly high – scenario seemed popular
• Negative feedback centred on traditional group issues rather than IT system
• SIMPLE was excellent in introducing realistic information retrieval
• General standards of work and reports were better than last year

After the coffee break Diny Peters and Pieter van der Hijden talked about the development of Cyberdam, from its initial existence as Sieberdam, thanks to a 2.4M euros development fund from the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Fascinating points of difference and similarity between SIMPLE and Cyberdam. Pieter demonstrated the levels of authority and responsibility for areas of game or simulation development, including playground editors, game authors, game manifest composers, game masters, participants, user administration, system administration. This hierarchy is very interesting and reflects elements of SIMPLE. It’s is very neat and orderly – very Dutch! Their map is much more highly developed, and seems to be in use much more than the maps are in SIMPLE. Interesting, and I’m not sure quite why this is, apart from the point that detail attracts attention. In GGSL we’ve found that students look at the map at the start, then use the directory much more. Of course, if a discipline such as architecture were to use the map in detail then it would be much more intensively used as a practical tool or source of information. Michael has been experimenting with Google Earth layers – early days, but it may be that we adopt a version of that in the future.

In a future-oriented session Michael Hughes, our lead developer, then took us through some of the current problems associated with tool design and learning, and the future of the tools, including alerts for students and staff, plus future tool development in voice and 3D.

The day ended on an open discussion with the people present who wanted to be second-wave participators. I outlined our plans for a SIMPLE Foundation, based on a gift economy and a community of practice. Our business model was to seek funding from public and educational funds, donation, and seek income from commercial sources, where possible. In other words, we want to create an environment where academics and technologists and others can share resources with each other in an open courseware approach. The model is akin to that of the Mozilla Foundation. To establish the community, Strathclyde will be uploading all 15 of its blueprints (together with associated project resources, where appropriate) to the community website, as well as being responsible in the first instance for the archiving of the SIMPLE project resources, software and documentation, and the initial instance of the SIMPLE Foundation community site.

We think this is the way to go – it’s really the only model: democratic, participatory, based on open exchange and sharing of resources. Whether or not the initiative succeeds will be the responsibility not just of ourselves, but the community too. The conference dinner rounded off a day which, I hope, had shown our funders and partners the true successes of the project. As for me, I took a few moments of quiet before the dinner, because I have to say I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude – it has been such a privilege to work on this project, and the commitment and work that’s been put into it by people has been inspiring.

The next day consisted of a workshop on designing sim scenarios and using the SIMPLE tools. The sessions, were relaxed, with the core team circulating among the second-wavers helping them to design sims, taking their ideas forward, and helping them to become familiar with the SIMPLE tools. A good half-day, and a model that we’ll refine for the Foundation as a standard f2f training session for sim design and tool use.

As I said at the start of this Launch Event, simulation learning is liminal: it stands at the threshold of so many of the intractable problems that FE and HE faces today. It brings together academic learning and ways of working and learning beyond the academy; it can bring together disciplines and professions; it draws people together in collaboration, both students and staff; it can bring together institutions across jurisdictions and international boundaries. I’ll be working with Cyberdam on an international simulation between Dutch and Scottish students (our second such project) for next year; Karen and I will be working with a law school in the US to converge Standardized Client and SIMPLE simulation methods; and once the SIMPLE Foundation is set up, I’ll be starting to plan an international collaborative project in legal education researching the use of simulation that will involve, I hope, at least eight jurisdictions.

More of all this in later postings. For now, we have the SIMPLE project itself to finish up by the end of July, and that’s what we’ll be turning our attention to, now. Thanks to our event sponsors, JISC, UKCLE, BILETA and the University of Strathclyde. More information on the SIMPLE Foundation will be posted at in the near future…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Digital Directions June 12, 2008 at 10:59

SIMPLE Launch Event

Today was the first of a two-day launch of the SIMPLE suite of tools for SIMulated Professional Learning. Paul Maharg started with three key issues that the platform showcases: Interdisciplinary – not just law, but social work, architecture and others …


2 Digital Directions June 12, 2008 at 11:00

SIMPLE – Day 2 (the hands-on approach)

Day two was very much an opportunity to play around with ideas and attempt to build some simulations. Group work looked to be very lively and productive: some attendees had thought of a scenario and were starting to draw a Narrative Event Diagram. To s…


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