The power of multimedia to simulate natural and social worlds appears to offer exciting advantages over other teaching methods. However, this is a relatively new application for IMM and little is known about how to develop such simulations. This paper examines some common assumptions about the educational value of realism, focusing on simulations of social contexts that might be useful in teaching business and other applied subjects. It is concluded that there is much to be learned about how to use realism in simulations, and that current methods of developing and studying IMM will not be able to provide answers. Some suggestions for advancing the study of realistic simulations are provided.
This paper addresses the use of simulations in teaching business subjects. In general desirable outcomes might involve understanding theoretical descriptions and prescriptions for practice, but go considerably beyond these in requiring students to learn about the look and feel of the social worlds of practitioners, including cultures, modes of communication, ethical issues and the many ways in which application of theoretical knowledge is compromised by real world constraints of budget and time, as well as by psychological, social and political processes. As theoretical knowledge has a short shelf life and limited generalisability, teachers often also desire outcomes in the learning to learn domain. A brief summary of the outcomes that might be sought in business simulations would therefore involve at least five domains:
The major question of this paper is how IMM simulations can promote outcomes of these sorts. While there is not yet any comprehensive discussion of the issues involved in simulating social environments, it is apparent that many developers share common assumptions about the educational role of realism. Here five assumptions will be explored through literature from a variety of areas. These assumptions are: that more realism is better than less; that it is the power to provide rich representations of the world that gives IMM technology an edge; that psychological research shows that realism aids memory; that educational research shows that learning is best situated in realistic contexts and; that realism is a straightforward value free concept.
A second important point in this literature is that realism is not a uni-dimensional concept. Hays and Singer (1989) divide 'fidelity' into physical and functional dimensions, and discuss a number of related conceptions including equipment, environmental, psychological, behavioural and physical forms of fidelity. Unfortunately, these aspects of realism are poorly defined and even the physical/ functional distinction has not yet been systematically explored in empirical studies.
Although an adequate analysis of the concept of realism in social world simulations is even more remote, designers should consider which aspects of their application may benefit most from realism. It may be, for example, that functional realism is difficult to achieve in the sense of modelling the operation of an organisation or a market, but that students could benefit from high physical realism, conveying the 'look and feel' of an organisation, coupled with a very coarse simulation of its actual operation. In other situations such as teaching financial or economic principles, functional realism might be more valuable than physical.
Are such limitations important? Should we view virtual reality technology, which promises to remove some of these barriers, as heralding a new paradigm for learning in which students can gain even more real experiences in the classroom or home study? There is little research which aids understanding of the limitations of current computer representations.
Possibly, however, concern over these issues is misplaced. Observation suggests that motivated students can ignore them and create quite vivid mental 'worlds' from limited information. Laurel (1993) provides a number of illustrations of such processes. For example in her study of the use of 'Guides' to help navigate databases, on screen pictures and brief outlines of the Guides interests provoked users to create rich mental impressions of the sorts of people these fictional characters might be. The ability of text (as in books) and severely degraded visual images (as in early computer games) to evoke satisfying representations and to assist learning is also obvious. Indeed it might be that requiring students to actively imagine rather than passively view worlds has educational value, even if at the level of improving motivation through more direct engagement of the student.
As Laurel puts it, the problem for IMM simulations may be not so much how to capture the detail of the world as how to engage learners' own creative powers:
Given a multisensory environment that is good enough, people engage in projective construction that is wildly elaborate and creative. And so this turns the problems on its head; rather than figuring out how to provide structure with pleasing emotional textures, the problem becomes one of creating an environment that evokes robust projective construction. (p208)For IMM developers such ideas caution against automatic investment in technology for realism. Rather we need better understandings of these constructive powers of imagination, and under what circumstances displaying reality is superior to asking students to create it. These understandings will differ for different learning outcomes and subject areas. For example in business some students do not have work experience and cannot reasonably imagine office environments, while those with long but not broad work experience may feel challenged to work in environments that differ from their own.
First there is not a consensus on how abstract learning and memory are. Many psychologists and workers in fields that overlap IMM such as AI and ITS hold that knowledge is semantic or propositional and ' is stored and retrieved from memory. If learning is relatively abstract, then attention to realism in IMM may be a wasted investment or may even detract from learning by interfering with the abstraction process.
Others propose that knowledge at least in some areas is not separated from its sensory (eg visual) basis, though it may be also recoded into non-sensed formats. For example Paivio's (1986) dual coding theory is widely cited in the IMM literature as indicating that both visual and verbal (symbolic) aspects of information are retained. There is also evidence that physical characteristics of voice are encoded along with linguistic content (Geiselman and Crawley 1983).
A third position is that memory does not involve a separate store of abstract symbolic information, but rather consists only of fairly literal images of episodes linked in ways which allow memory traces to act as though they represent abstract symbolic information (eg Jacoby and Brooks 1984). Parallel distributed processing models (eg McClelland 1994), sometimes described as neural networks, show how the architecture of a storage system can accommodate very detailed 'raw' memory traces and yet allow emergence of more abstract rule governed representations.
Recently a very different position on the issue of memory has been popularised by the situated cognition approach to learning. Drawing on the ecological psychology of J. J. Gibson (1986), writers such as Young (1993) proposes that meaning is created 'on the fly' through the interaction of a perceiver's "abilities" and visual clues or "affordances" in the environment, virtually eliminating the need for theories of memory and mechanisms for encoding and retrieval. Educational prescriptions arising from this view stress the need to situate learning in realistic (including physically realistic) contexts, a view discussed further below.
Thus a range of positions on the role of physical (sensory) detail can be found. Those proposing to base IMM applications on any one of these theories should consider the evidence supporting it, much of which involves very different types of learning to that intended in IMM. Typically in the first three frameworks these are laboratory experiments with highly impoverished stimuli such as single words, isolated sentences or line drawings, presented in large quantities in artificial laboratory settings to students who have very different motivations for learning to students in a typical class. There is very little if any demonstration of the applicability of these theories to learning about complex, fuzzy, non-symbolic problems such as those in social contexts.
For IMM developers perhaps the most interesting product of the debates over learning, memory and representation is increasing evidence that learning is not wholly abstract, as indicated in the last three positions above. While there are inconsistent findings and methodological inadequacies, evidence from a wide variety of sources, including studies of educational video and television, seems to point to improved retention for materials that are realistic in the sense of being highly visual or multisensorially lifelike (eg Hapeshi and Jones 1992).
Most proponents of the use of such materials are referring to their use in communicating ideas or contexts. Another use is to provoke use of internally generated visual imagery in problem solving. For example Reiber (1995) cites a number of examples of the use of visual thinking in science history and suggests that "visualisation appears to be the source of some of our most versatile and robust cognitive tools" (p52), although he provides no evidence on how many great discoveries have been made through verbal or semantic thinking. Despite this, the suggestion that instructional designers should teach visualisation as a cognitive strategy connects with the idea that IMM simulations should allow rich visual environments to replace the need for learners to use their own constructive abilities.
Situated learning appeals to IMM developers as it resonates with a widely held feeling that much tertiary teaching is too abstract and students do not learn how to apply knowledge or develop new knowledge in job situations. This is a common theme in the business education literature and accounts for the popularity of the case study approach to teaching noted above. However, situated learning rests heavily on the psychological theories of situated cognition and ecological perception (Gibson 1988, see Young 1993) noted above. Although there is not room here to discuss these motivations, developers should ask whether this theory applies directly to tertiary teaching in their subject area. A number of considerations suggest that the application of this theory is not yet demonstrated.
Situated learning was derived from studies of learning in non-academic environments, and its principles are most often demonstrated by reference to everyday learning, such as Brown et al's (1989) famous problem of cutting the cottage cheese. Demonstrations of its efficacy appear largely limited to learning through experience. For example in the widely cited Jasper series of problems (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt 1992), students learn basic properties of the physical world through a series of problems that involve direct experience.
The application of situated learning to tertiary education has been queried by Laurillard (1993), who contends that much of the knowledge of the world taught in universities is "known more through exposition, argument, interpretation; it is known through reflection on experience and represents therefore a second order experience of the world". She proposes that university learning is 'mediated' by symbolic representations which allow different descriptions of the world to those provided by direct experience. Indeed the two forms of knowledge are contrasting and separate. For example in understanding Newton's concept of force Laurillard points out that principles contradictory to experience must be learned. Similar arguments are made by Sandberg and Wielinga (1991).
In business teaching and possibly many other professional areas, however, Laurillard's argument is only partly applicable. Students who do not have experience of the world in which they will eventually work can benefit from learning descriptions of it. Further, even if learning must go beyond description or produce counter intuitive descriptions, it is not clear that embedding learning in real contexts is detrimental. Further, realism may have other advantages such as improved motivation, engagement or memory.
Other critics including Orey and Nelson (1994) suggest the extent to which learning is situated even in schools has been exaggerated. They cite evidence that school learners have both formal and informal (situated) knowledge, and that these are overlapping and interactive. Some understanding of the mix of these different types of learning is important to developers looking to use the IMM literature based on situated cognition. There are a range of learning situations in which first order (experience based) and second order (abstract) learning are of different value. There are perhaps few in which either sort of learning is the whole object of university teaching: however discussion of this issue is based on a very narrowly range of teaching areas at present.
A second and related problem lies in the possibility that mediated realities may become more 'real' than experienced ones. Post-modernist writers and semioticians suggest that it is increasingly hard to determine what is real and what is media derived - indeed the latter is becoming more real than the former, as the title of Baudrillard's (1983) paper "The Precession of Simulacra" is known for highlighting.
In the context of teaching business this idea has the important consequence of reminding designers of their obligations to consider the values and ethical dimensions of created realities. Do students learn that managers are white middle aged males as an unintended consequence of basing a simulation on a real organisation which happens to have such managers? Are there more subtle messages about social relationships, power and organisational values that will be taken by students without work experience as statements of how the world is or should be? Do computer simulations, by implying they describe real worlds, have too much authority?
There are two issues here for developers. One is whether they should consider permitting alternative subjectivities in their designed worlds. The second is whether they should consider inviting students to critique the worlds created, to come to the computer with a mindset that looks not just for descriptions of reality but also for the distorting power of such descriptions.
This problem could be remedied by use of more appropriate stimulus materials in IMM research. Unfortunately this is not likely to happen for two reasons. First technology appears to develop faster than carefully controlled studies can be carried out. For example recent reviews of the role of colour in IMM interfaces lament the fact that most research has used different forms of colour to those now available; research on graphics suffers from being conducted on black and white, C, low resolution screens. If such relatively simple aspects of IMM cannot be understood, what hope is there of knowing how students use realistic representations in learning at the different levels identified above. And secondly controlled scientific studies rarely help developers understand what proportion of the variance in student learning and memory is attributable to the use of either low level media features or higher ones such as the difference between pictures and verbal descriptions, line drawings and photographs, spoken and written text. Two reasons for this are that effect sizes are sacrificed to the quest for significant p values, and that such studies are usually conducted a long way from the natural settings of a classroom.
Ullmer (1994) raises an interestingly parallel problem in medicine: new drugs proliferate faster than researchers' abilities to conduct properly controlled studies in the traditional highly controlled scientific manner. A new approach to testing involves "large simple trials" where large numbers of subjects are tested with very simple measures, for example outcomes classified as hospitalisation, heart attack or death. It would be intriguing to know of interactive multimedia materials that were widely used and known to have strongly helped students learn important concepts, practitioner relevant skills, attitudes, generic skills, meta-cognitive skills, ethical frameworks - anything! Which aspects of these materials most aided that learning could be investigated as a second generation research issue.
Most students were also quite enthusiastic about the opportunity to study the application of theory in simulated worlds. Features mentioned included the ability to 'replay' simulations to see additional layers of meaning or recall forgotten aspects. Although students were provided with a linear outline of the contents, observation and self report showed them to work very non-linearly through the material. It was evident they were improving understanding through an active process of moving between different elements, including theoretical principles, graphic illustrations and the simulations. Undoubtedly students do this with textbooks, but the ease with which it can be done in IMM along with the attraction of the simulated rather than verbally described environment suggests considerable scope for deeper understandings of the application of knowledge.
However, enthusiasm for this approach was mediated by students maturity. Some younger students were more inclined to see the simulations as less useful than lectures or tutorials because the latter "forced you to learn what the lecturer wanted". Older students with work experience were more appreciative and could see how the knowledge might transfer to future work situations.
Also to be investigated in this study are self report and 6 month follow up tests of students' memory, including memory for visual and auditory details that might act as retrieval cues for the more abstract subject matter. Interviews completed so far reveal a wide range of individual differences in the extent to which students thought visual images and sounds would help them remember the key points of the package; whether these translate into improved memory is yet to be seen.
Baudrillard, J. (1983). The precession of simulacra. Art and Text, 11. Reprinted in D. Hlynka and J. C. Belland (Eds), Paradigms regained: The uses of illuminative, semiotic and post-modern criticism as modes of inquiry in educational technology. Engelwood Cliffs: Educational Technology Publications.
Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1992). The Jasper experiment: The exploration of issues in learning and instructional design. Educational Technology, 40(1), 65-80.
Dale, J. (1954). Audio-visual methods in teaching. NY: Dryden Press.
Gagne, R. M. (1954). Training devices and simulators: Some research issues. American Psychologist, 9(7), 95-107.
Gagne, R. M. and Glaser (1987). Foundations in learning research. In R. M. Gagne (Ed) Instructional technology: Foundations. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Geiselman, R. E. and Crawley, J. M. (1983). Incidental processing of speaker characteristics: Voice as connotative information. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 22, 15-23.
Gibson, J. J. (1986). The ecological approach to visual perception. 2nd Ed. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Goodman, F. L. (1995). Practice in theory. Simulation and Gaming, 178-189.
Hapeshi and Jones (1992). Interactive multimedia for instruction: A cognitive analysis of the role of audition and vision. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 4(1), 79-99.
Hays, R. T. & Springer, M. J. (1988). Simulation fidelity in training system design. NY: Springer-Verlag.
Jacoby, L. L. and Brooks, L. R. (1984). Nonanalytic cognition: Memory, perception and concept learning. The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 18, 1-47.
Laurel, B. (1993). Computers as theatre. Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley.
Laurillard, D. (1993). Rethinking university teaching. London: Routledge.
McClelland, J. L.(1994). The organization of memory: A parallel distributed processing perspective. Revue Neurologique, 150(8-9), 570-579.
Orey and Nelson (1994). Situated learning and the limits of applying the results of these data to theories of cognitive apprenticeship. In Proceedings of Selected Research and Development Presentations at the 1994 National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Nashville, TN.
Paivio, A. (1990). Mental representations: A dual coding approach. NY: Oxford University Press.
Reiber, L. (1990). Animation in computer-based instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 38(1), 77-86.
Reiber, L. (1995). A historical view of visualization in human cognition. Educational Technology Research and Development, 43(1), 45-56.
Salomon, G. (1978). Interaction of media, cognition and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Sandberg, J. and Wielinga, B. (1991). How situated is cognition? Proceedings of the Twelfth International Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Vol 1. Sydney.
Schlecter, T. M. (1993). Computer based instruction and the practical aspects of memory. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 7(7), 653-665.
Sims, R. J. (1991). Simulation versus emulation and the rules of the game. Proceedings of ASCILITE 91, Geelong.
Ullmer, E. J. (1994). Media and learning: Are there two kinds of truth? Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(1), 21-32.
Young, M. F. (1993). Instructional design for situated learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 41(1), 43-58.
|Author: Dr Peter Standen|
Department of Management
Edith Cowan University
Churchlands WA 6018
Ph (09) 383 8335 Fax (09) 273 8754
Please cite as: Standen, P. (1996). Realism and imagination in educational multimedia simulations. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), The Learning Superhighway: New world? New worries? Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 384-390. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1996/ry/standen.html