UWE at the forefront of online learning simulations

Issue date: 22 September 2009

An accident simulator The University of the West of England is using its expertise in emergent online technologies such as virtual worlds and collaborative networking applications to enhance and support student learning across all its subject areas.

The University is responding to the profound changes that online technologies have brought about in the last decade such as the nature of knowledge itself and also to the new opportunities such technologies offer for learning.

Manuel Frutos-Perez (Deputy Manager of the E-learning Development Unit) is leading one of the main projects under UWE's new wide-ranging initiative: Simulations in Higher Education (SHE), to develop innovative ways of embedding the use of these technologies in the curriculum, supporting students' skills development and extending their learning.

Manuel explains, “The new environment of the Web 2.0 and emerging technologies present both a challenge and an opportunity to educators. We want to make the most of the learning potential this offers for our students. One of our projects: Simulations in Transactional Activities (SIMITA) uses social collaborative online software to create a professional office environment online where students assume different roles (e.g. a partner in a firm of solicitors) and work in teams to resolve a case presented to them by their tutors (who also role-play as clients and consultants). Another project has seen us build an accident simulator in the virtual world SecondLife so that we can develop Environmental Health students' understanding of accident anatomy, interaction with witnesses and the variables at play in risk assessments.”

“By using these educational collaborative simulations we can bridge the gap between theory and practice in a safe but realistic environment, taking full advantage of the latest information technology. Students gain invaluable practical experience, reflect and apply what they are learning, while they also develop transferable skills.”

“Most universities have been using technology to support their traditional teaching activities for many years now, but some are starting to use emergent technologies to build creative solutions to particular problems and to develop their curricula in innovative new ways.

“Our learners, and particularly those who will access Higher Education in the near future, live in a connected world. If we can capitalise on the virtues of the digital world, we will not only raise our students' engagement with learning but we will also equip them more efficiently with the skills that they will need in the world of work.”

John Rushforth, Deputy Vice-Chancellor said, “One of the important aspects of UWE is our ability to relate theory to practice. We have a good track record in placements, work based learning and similar approaches that help students to make the theory/practice transition. Simulated environments offer us a terrific opportunity to build on this experience and we are determined to make the most of its possibilities for the benefit of our students.”

A further UWE project under development features a Care Home Simulator which will involve a variety of students from different health care related disciplines interacting with the realities of a care home and its residents.

UWE's E-learning Development Unit is organising a conference on the theme of Online Simulations in Higher Education that will take place on 5 November 2009.

Further information about UWE's SHE initiative can be found at http://www.uwe.ac.uk/elearning/she/

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