A new computer program developed by Deakin University and based on games technology is allowing students from a number of professions to experience real world situations using the freedom of their personal computers.
Engineering students using the program were able to simulate a project which involved designing an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) for a ficticious bank known as the First Australia Bank (FAB).
Deakin University associate professor Jacob Cybulski, who led the Deakin Live Simulator (Deakin LiveSim) project, said previous approaches used employers, members of staff and tutors in the role of clients.
However, this method created problems because lecturers couldn't control the educational results.
"I also tried posing as the client at a remote location and the students interviewed me by e-mail," Cybulski said.
"I wrote 20,000 words in response to students' queries that year, it couldn't continue."
Some of the students working on the FAB ATM project are on campus in Australia while others are based in Singapore and the UK.
"Students are introduced to the FAB ATM project in class and by self-directed study and then they research and brainstorm the issues involved via e-mail and online discussion," Cybulski said.
"Students then use the FAB ATM simulation to interview simulated bank employees to get the information they need to complete their final report."
Cybulski said the employees, Paul and Mary are very human, and present the students with all the complexities of a business meeting.
"If you ignore one, the other gets bored and starts fidgeting. Interview one on their own and they will give you quite different answers than if they were interviewed together, and all of this affects the outcome of the students' project," he said.
Cybulski created Deakin LiveSim after coming across 'A virtual newsroom' - an award-winning newsroom simulation, created jointly by Deakin's Learning Services and Faculty of Arts for Deakin's journalism students.
In the newsroom students are confronted with six separate simulations which mirror events in a journalist's working day.
Impressed by the virtual program, Cybulski applied for a Deakin Strategic Teaching and Learning Grant Scheme (STALGS) grant and the LiveSim architecture was created.
Other members of the team that developed the program include Stephen Segrave from the University's Institute of Teaching and Learning, and David O'Brien from Knowledge Media Division.
A paper on part of the project (FAB ATM) received the Best Paper Award at the 11th Australian Workshop on Requirements Engineering.
Segrave said computerised simulations have been used by business faculties for a number of years but in information systems they have a shorter history.
"Even then very few examples use virtual reality, such as embedded video or the 'real-life' characters seen for example in the gaming industry," he said.