The SMISLE Project is concerned with technical training based on simulation. Its purpose is to offer to authors of courseware a tool which enables them to handle their instructional strategies, the technical contents and the adaptation to trainees profiles and changing contents. The results of the project will be evaluated on three real size technical applications.
SMISLE, for "System of Multimedia Integrated Simulation Learning Environment", will develop and test the prototype of an integrated workbench for creating multimedia learning environments based on simulation and integration with existing modules.
The starting point of the project is the observation that exploratory learning is a promising way of learning for cases where simulations offer an appropriate context. This is caused by learners becoming more and more aware and active in their learning processes.
The SMISLE project answers the DELTA program objective of developing "flexible" tools adapted to the training of modern and complex systems. This complexity is characterized in technical domains, at graduate study and industrial levels, by a great number of parameters, an important evolution of models and procedures which affect: the productivity of courseware authors, the quality of training and the quality of the final product (industrial objects or services, proficiency of students).
A requirements study on the use of simulation in education and a functional specification of the SMISLE toolkit was produced. Toolkit software was developed and validated with five pilot applications, two in industrial training and three in education (physics).
The SMISLE approach is an innovative set of conceptual and software solutions based on the balanced experience of both industrials and university partners of this European consortium. These advanced solutions concern the trainee position, the author tasks and the architecture of the system.
The trainee approach takes into account its prerequisites and its cognitive progression during the assignments about the running simulation. This teaching aid, as well as the evaluation, is not limited to sequential lessons and scores at a purely behavioral level. In fact, the trainee can generate, explore and test hypothesis through an hypothesis scratchpad. The system can "take the hand" through an instructional tool giving explanations. The communication, opened to multimedia devices, is done through the graphical interface model shown on figure.
The task of the author is facilitated in terms of content and environment. The author has the possibility to select, construct and re-use a library of objects and methods. These objects and methods may represent at a high level of abstraction: expert knowledge, simulation models, selection of instructional strategies, multimedia tools, and graphical interface tools. The mouse-controlled tools and windows of the author are sketched thereafter.
The productivity of the author is then enhanced by a connection and integration of these blocks of objects or "knowledge bases" related to a specific learning, into a common "shell" that will activate the exchange between the various modules.
The architecture of the system will be implemented on PC under Windows. An opening on UNIX workstation will be offered for advanced technical training problems.
The architecture consists of an authoring tool kit used by the author to design the training session and a shell that ensures its production. The authoring tool kit, at the difference of most existing one, is exploiting a library of so-called building blocks. These building blocks are original C++ modules which are manipulated through the graphical author interface. The second part of the architecture is the "shell" which receives the data assembled from the building blocks and which dispatches them between four modules (learner model, cognitive models with embedded simulation, instructional module, interface module). At pedagogical level, the integrated authoring workbench is designed to explicit exploratory learning process and give the optimal balance of instructional support between guidance and freedom.
The SMISLE Project will delivered an authoring environment tested on three pilot applications.
This prototype will include the functionalities developed throughout the project and existing tools and standards where suitable. Pilot tests with author and learners using SMISLE will be carried out in Europe to evaluate the usability and the pedagogical effectiveness.
The two industrial applications are of direct interest to two industrial markets. The first one is concerned with productivity of car industry at the design level: training of the use of a Computer Aided Design package. The other is related to complex process understanding in the field of chemical engineering. The third pilot application will be developed in a Mechanical Engineering Department for graduated students.
A third output of the project is the authoring methodology that will be delivered with the system to help authors with a conceptual support in the design of non-sequential coursewares.
The market for products behind this project is the field of technical systems which are ever more complex and require for various reasons (safety, cost, etc.) the use of simulation during training. It meets the needs at European level of the car, aerospace, chemical and nuclear industries.
The overall advantages of this simulation approach offer:
availability of training near or at the workplace
availability of training at the required time and of a suitable duration
accommodation of diverse ranges of trainee abilities and corporate knowledge
cost effectiveness of training large or small group of personnel.
SMISLE focus on profile of authors who are not expert in pedagogy nor in computer systems but who are currently mixing, without a sufficient support, the requirements of a training program with expertise, corporate knowledge and simulation tools. The productivity of such staff is known to be affected by the variety of learner profile and the rate of change of the technical content. SMISLE addresses both problems by presenting an open architecture which uses the power and flexibility of "cognitive" modeling and multimedia facilities.