SIMULAB in the context of the European Unions educational programmes.
The SIMULAB concept has been the theme of two projects financed by the European Union. The project run under the Socrates Adult Education programme, studies the pedagogical implication of the simulations and has as its main goal to try out the concept, create a data-base of simulation scripts and a series of pedagogical recommendations to teachers who wish to use this pedagogical tool. Another project, under Telematics in Education and Training, has been involved in the creation of a new WWW-based software especially designed for the simulation activity.
Several years ago, experienced language teachers in Finland began to use the Internet as means of communication between groups that participated in a simulation. The first pilot groups used primitive e.mail systems. Conferencing systems on the Web were tried later, but it soon became obvious that - to optimize the pedagogical results of the simulation activity, it would be necessary to create a customized, WWW-based software. A consortium of partners representing European educational institutions in six different countries, was formed and two applications were sent to the European Commission. The result of these two projects, which have a common concept but very different areas of activity, is SIMULAB a customised environment with pedagogically designed, proved and evaluated scripts for language learning.
The two projects started almost simultaneously. For this reason, the first phase of the Socrates project, in which scripts on general cultural themes were developed and evaluated, was run on a standard conference environment (Monharch). The experience proved abundantly the need for a customised environment which would help structure the activity, organise the different types of communication in different folders, documents and conferences, and last but not least provide the teachers with tools that made them independent from a system operator with exclusive access to the server should the need arise to edit or delete a document that had already been registered.
The SIMULAB laboratory is based on the TELSI software, specially designed for SIMULAB by the Finnish partner in the Telematics in Education & Training SIMULAB consortium: the Center for Continuing Education at the University of Oulu, Finland. The environment consists of a flexible system of authoring tools, which allows any language teacher to create simulations on the Internet for their pupils. This includes systems that give access to internal e-mail systems within a group; communication with others outside the SIMULAB environment; internal "chat" forums in real-time; creation and editing of documents on-line - without the need to learn any html-codes - and easy linking to chosen Internet sites. The system allows the inclusion of graphics and sound and video files and has been designed to allow for further developments in Web applications.
The TELSI software provides every simulation with its own customised space. One of the teachers involved in the simulation acts as »supervisor» within the environment. The supervisor can create the necessary usernames and passwords, an adequate number of folders where the users can create their documents and a number of different mailing lists, or conferences. Both folders, documents and conferences can be configured to give reading and writing rights to different users. This allows, for instance, the teachers involved in the simulation to communicate in a conference which is only open to them and not to the students. It is also possible for the teachers to create »hidden» documents documents that will be ready but invisible until they become relevant to the simulation at a later date.
Although it is advisable for all teachers involved to become very familiar with the software, only one teacher in each simulation needs to learn how to set up the whole environment, create users, etc. The role of supervisor can also be played by an outsider to the simulation, provided he or she is in constant contact with the teachers involved.
The collaboration between the consortia involved in the two SIMULAB projects has proved very valuable. Although the Socrates SIMULAB project concerned itself solely with the pedagogical aspects, the evaluations included advice that was very valuable for the software developers. On the other hand, the quick developments made in the TELSI software allowed the simulations run under the Socrates project to make use of the first prototype of TELSI for the simulations run during the 2nd and 3rd phase. Both students and teachers felt that many of the technical problems that had diminished the pedagogical value of the activity in the first phase, were solved when they started to use the new software.
Dissemination of the SIMULAB concept under Telematics in Education and Training
The Telematics SIMULAB project is currently actively disseminating the project in Europe, the US and Asia. During the third and fourth project year (Oct 98 Sept 2000), the consortium will organize four annual workshops in different countries as well as participate in international conferences, as part of the dissemonation programme. A CD-ROM with a walk-through of the TELSI software is being prepared and will be released in Jan 2000. Educators from all over the world are welcome to get acquainted with the SIMULAB concept through the free Teacher Simulations which are being organized.
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