ERCIM News No.33 - April 1998

InterSim ­ Interactive Simulation based Learning with Intelligent Assistance

by Reinhard Oppermann

The InterSim project is to develop a learning support system with intelligent assistance for the education in medicine. Both knowledge acquisition and training are supported to understand the anatomy, physiology and pathology of human organs - current example is the human ear. Animation based process observations and simulation based active explorations accompany textual hard-copy descriptions, graphical and animated illustrations, and acoustics to provide the learner with a comprehensive representation of the structure and the processes of the domain.

InterSim supports the active learner. Active learning means that the learner is not restricted to follow a predefined learning path and not restricted to reading and observation. An active learner can select the learning unit at will and can also experiment in the learning domain.

The classical paradigm for active learning is the apprenticeship where the pupil acquires more and more understanding and competence of the concepts and procedures of the domain by observing the master and trying out activities in a real context. This approach has been transferred to domains other than practical professions and is called the cognitive apprenticeship. InterSim adopts the cognitive apprenticeship approach in combining receptive and active learning behaviour and provides the necessary context for adaptation, enrichment and refinement by facilitating learning in the form of observation, imitation, feedback and evaluation.

Typically the learner starts with getting a presentation of textual descriptions and graphical illustrations for structural and logical contents and with observing animations showing a physiological process for dynamic phenomena, say the acoustic transduction. Based on this receptive phase the learner can proceed to active explorations where the simulation environment allows for testing rules and interdependencies of variables of states and processes connected to the organ, say the relation between different possible developments of a tube dysfunction and corresponding effects on hearing capabilities.

The learner can initially observe various possibilities of disease development with the help of controlled animations while selecting various relevant environmental parameters. For example, the tube dysfunction would advance in acute otitis media if bacteria are present in the middle ear. In the absence of bacteria but presence of serous fluid, the advancement would result in mukotympanon.

After getting a mental map of the disease development process, the learner can attempt to explore the process in a simulation environment to see the effects of changes in the environmental variables. The system explains the reasons for the hearing loss by a graphical illustration of the level of fluid present in the middle ear cavity. The effect of the disease is represented by simulated acoustic output and typical measures for reduced hearing effects like an audiogramm and a tympanogramm. The receptive observation of animation and the active simulation use identical presentation elements to facilitate the transfer from one learning mode to another, from the receptive learning to active learning. A synchronised otoscopy video clip gives the learner understanding of real process.

The advance learning of the domain takes place when the learner is presented with the diagnosis and treatment of the diseases. Observation of various diagnostic measures and different treatments followed by simulated experimentation possibilities in repetitive training provide the learner with the skills required in real clinical practices later in their career.

Interactive simulation models are being designed to support the process of learning in the phase between acquiring basic knowledge and the real clinical practice and are aimed at preparing in-depth knowledge and practical skills by exploring the domain functionality.

The system contains three main modes: learning mode containing all the domain content and facilitating immediate feedback; assessment mode meant for measuring the improvement in learner's competence; and author mode providing authoring facilities to doctors and teachers for adding real cases in the system. The system aims to provide intelligent assistance at various stages of learning process by adapting to the learner's needs and changing strategies, feedback and domain granularity for individual user.

Exploration activities are supported for the learner by what we call an Exploration-Space Control (ESC). ESC enables the learners to use several dedicated interaction support tools through suitable graphical user interfaces to explore the learning space, thus reducing the cognitive load. To acquire quick analysis of the learner's performance, the system builds up individual overlay student models supporting the learner's interaction at different levels ranging from individual tasks to overall domain competence.

An intensive contact to the application domain is critical for the design of the learning system. The project is run from the very beginning in close co-operation with experts of the otology domain from the University of Cologne.

Please contact:

Reinhard Oppermann - GMD
Tel: +49 22 41 14 2703

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