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ENCAPSULATING REAL-LIFE EXPERIENCE

INTRODUCTION

Weisman and Anthony (1999) concluded that there are four ways that knowledge is transferred: involvement (participation in learned organizations such as trade societies), association (formal or informal interactions with others), experience (knowledge acquired through implicit learning), and direct education (formal learning pursuits). A study by Simmonds et al. (2001) concluded that: “Li general, results suggest that the primary source of management concepts for practicing managers is experience, followed by association and involvement. The least identified knowledge source for practicing managers was direct education.”

SYSTEMS ANALYSIS AS A TOPIC

Teaching of systems analysis often is reduced to identifying specific skills and then designing tasks based on text descriptions of a case to be analysed. These text-based case studies can degenerate into a written comprehension test. Students can achieve the intended result by “finding the answers” in the text. Systems analysis in a real life situation involves obtaining information about the site in a number of ways. These include the project brief, interviews, document analysis and observation of the current system. These applied tasks can be described as the capabilities of a graduate of a systems analysis course. If we are to teach real life capabilities then we must prepare assessment tasks that incorporate these real life characteristics. In real cases the information required to properly specify the problem will come from a mixture of these sources.

SYSTEMS ANALYSIS AS AN EXEMPLAR EDUCATIONAL AREA

At RMIT University in Australia the teaching group charged with delivering education in systems analysis hit this need for relevance and experience as a major hurdle. Systems analysis involves searching through the miasma of complexity of a normal human organization to discover problem definitions that are amenable to analysis. Often the skills involved are required to be learnt by undergraduate students with superficial understandings of organizations typical of the consumer rather than even a junior employee of an organization. Skills such as recognising raw data to be relevant, obtaining data fi-om a wide variety of sources including interviews and document analysis can be taught in isolation, but the transfer of these skills in a real situation seemed very poor.

HYPERMEDIA AND THE WEB

Gayeski defines hypermedia as a classification of software programs which consist of networks of related text, graphics, audio-files, and video clips through which users navigated by browser (Gayeski 1993). Such a definition of hypermedia seems to include all the facilities that allow a learning environment to reflect the complexity of real life. This advantage is in addition to those claimed by the literature for all hypermedia-based learning. For example (Liaw 2001) makes three claims for the advantages of hypermedia: “Li the building of hypermedia instruction, four advantages of this learning environment emerge: multiple perspectives, collaborative learning, learner-orientation, and interdisciplinary learning.

COMPLEXITY AND HYPERMEDIA

An underlying assumption of our work here should be stated explicitly. The teachers of systems analysis are in common accord as to one of the underlying requirements of professionals. The very need to perform systems analysis assumes that real systems have very detailed complexity. This complexity defeats many of the reductionist attitudes to classroom experience design.

WHY PRODUCE CASE STUDY SIMULATIONS

The systems analysis team started in 1989 producing traditional case study material on paper in text. These “case studies” were descriptions of organizations where the text description contains ALL the information a student needs to produce the analysis and in approximately the right order. The team was dissatisfied with the process of learning that students demonstrated. A study of the literature found many principles that might be included in a new approach. For example Lee had concluded that “The modem computer technology has made possible a new and rich leaming environment: the simulation. In an instructional simulation, students learn by actually performing activities to be learned in a context that is similar to the real world”.

THE DESIGN PROBLEM

The creation of case studies for students of systems analysis has been an arduous task for many academics. A common strategy of those that produce their own case studies is to write about a fictitious business from personal experience of a real business. This often leads to the case study being structured around memories of the operations of a business rather than providing a rich environment in which the student can find use for skills they are developing.

CONCLUSION

Sample problems can be placed on a web site for students to test and develop their learning. In the case of learning systems analysis this is particularly apt as the web is an ideal environment in which to encapsulate the complexity and fragmentation of information normally found in a business environment. Here we describe a technique for ensuring that a web site with this aim encapsulates all the aspects needed to ensure that a student is able to learn those skills intended to be included by the teacher.

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