Since 1997, researchers at GMD, the German National Center for Information Technology, are working on the InterSim project. This two year effort involves the building of a range of Interactive Simulation Models to support medical students in their learning process. These computer-based systems provide intelligent assistance to the user, so that he can gain a better understanding of the physiology and pathology of human organs, as well as learn to handle diagnostic technology in an efficient way. In fact, this kind of simulators have to bridge the gap between the theoretical lectures of university professors and the practical skills of surgeons, allowing students to explore an object without any restriction to a predetermined path and to undertake action according to their findings.
Tutorials combined with enabling simulation systems ideally have to offer a multimedia approach with regard to the selected study domain. They should provide an integrated database of textual descriptions, illustrated graphics, and animated films, as well as acoustic in- and output, suitably adapted to the subject, in order to adequately represent a realistic environment for diagnosis, appealing to all of the learner's senses. In this way, the student can dispose of a complete medium for independent, individual in-depth research. Simulation models of this type are being designed by the GMD researchers, in collaboration with medical experts, for three different specialities, namely the physiology and pathology of the ear, for ultrasound images of the brain, and for disturbance of consciousness.
The intelligent systems are able to change their strategies, feedback and knowledge structure according to the level of the user, so the degree of learning support will vary from student to student. Each individual however will be confronted with a suitable selection of both instruction and problem solving paradigms. This aspect requires a profound insight from the system developers in the educational training process, as it has its course in the academic environment. On the one hand, professors have to reveal their teaching methodology, whereas students, on the other, have to analyse their learning capabilities and facilities. Both parties inevitably display a varied collection of conscious and unconscious behaviour, corresponding to their mental conceptions, whether right or wrong, about what a didactic attitude has to look like.
In the end, accurate observation will inspire the designers of interactive cognitive and training modules to translate competent human teaching performances into equivalent technical knowhow. This will eventually lead to a critical assessment of the development cycle, starting from analysis over design to evaluation and back to redesign. The system builders also should take into account the situational and social context, in which the didactic process is embedded with relation to the student's motivation under varying conditions such as individual or collective learning. All these factors play a major role in the successful outcome with regard to the use of interactive simulation models as learning support systems in medical education. The GMD Web site has more news in store for you on the InterSim project.