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Using SIMPLE at the University of Warwick School of Law

Case study on the use of the SIMPLE application in the law school at the University of Warwick, one of five law schools participating in UKCLE’s SIMPLE project.

If you would like to know more about the use of SIMPLE at Warwick contact Nick Johnson on

Warwick used SIMPLE in the Law in Practice module during 2007-08. The module was taken by 48 students in either their second or third year of undergraduate study.

The simulation, based on a paper-based simulation that had already run for several years, was adversarial in nature – pairs of firms negotiated a legal transaction. Students were divided into firms of four with each student taking the role of a lawyer within their firm. In addition they played the roles of clients and witnesses in the simulations of other firms – a key difference from the other SIMPLE case studies. After completing the online transactions the students were required to prepare for and take part in a mock trial.

The simulation was run by two professors, one of whom was head of school. While they did not have a great amount of experience of e-learning, both had used simulations to teach professional learning for many years.

Building the simulation

The simulation was built by two postgraduate research assistants.

Uploading the simulation was problematic. The links in the blueprints determining who can communicate with whom had to be intact in both directions, but the fact that students were playing roles not just within their own simulation but also within others meant that the web of communication was extremely complex. This resulted in a hefty administrative task for the persons uploading the blueprint with a high potential for error. Any such errors cannot be rectified once the simulation is running.

Running the simulation

Prior to running the simulation the lecturers did not know that it would run with postgraduate students or adjunct staff acting as tutors, leading to them spending rather more time than they might have using SIMPLE.

The process of building and running the simulation highlighted what was missing in the original scenarios. The map of the virtual town was not much used, but in future it may be better integrated in order to add to the sense of location.

There were some glitches – broken links between a couple of the characters meant that certain messages never arrived, but there was no feedback to the sender to say this was so. The ‘sending’ aspect of the SIMPLE platform was felt to be rather clunky and did not work as smoothly as email.

General comments

The initial aim was to use SIMPLE to manage the simulations that had been running at Warwick for a number of years. By and large this aim was met, but the professors’ view of SIMPLE changed during the course of the project. From thinking of it as being driven by or all about the virtual town they came to realise that in fact the town could be dispensed with – the importance of SIMPLE lies in its potential for managing communications and transactions. Warwick describes SIMPLE as ‘mundane’ technology, but this is not meant in a derogatory way – it reflects the common sense nature of the SIMPLE approach.

The aspect that worked best was the sense of professionalism the students got from working in SIMPLE, and as such its introduction to the module was regarded overall as a success by both staff and students. However, key elements of skills development remained central – in particular it was felt that the students would regard the mock trial as the climax of the module rather than using SIMPLE.

Due to a lack of IT knowledge the professors obtained assistance to build the simulation and were ‘protected’ from the real development work. They consider that they had misjudged the level of support and technology required to get a project up and running – this would be difficult without the help of research assistants. Support from the core SIMPLE team was quick and helpful, and they were lucky to have a member of the SIMPLE team from UKCLE close at hand. SIMPLE could not be easily hosted at Warwick, but external hosting arrangements have now been made.

Last Modified: 4 June 2010