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Netherlands-based Avans University of Applied Sciences is a vocational institution located across three different cities: Breda, 's-Hertogenbosch, and Tilburg. The school has more than 30,000 students, and 40 courses taught in 18 institutes.
This is something that teacher Frank van der Kruis finds highly appealing. A huge advocate of digital solutions himself, he’s eager to make teaching more dynamic and engaging. “As teachers, our task is to prepare our students for what awaits them outside the classroom,” he says. “But when it comes to teaching law, it’s hard to convey what the real world is about if your curriculum is limited by week-one, week-two-type of courses. That’s why I think the solution lies in new technologies: they allow us teachers to show them what real life can be about and spend more quality time with them.”
A taste of real life
Frank van der Kruis’s simulation game was built using a combination of Microsoft Power Automate, Forms and Excel. By logging into it from the university portal, students playing the role of liquidators can wander around the theatre and perform a range of tasks – from accessing its funds to examining its assets.
So what is the challenge set to students?
A local theatre has just filed for bankruptcy. As the liquidator assigned to the case, you are responsible for overseeing its assets, closure, future and anything in-between. You’ll have to deal with lawyers, the curator of the theatre, tons of paperwork, and a broad range of legal hurdles. All while making as few mistakes as possible, in the least amount of time. How are you going to ensure that everything is carried out correctly? And what kind of legal skills will you be required to use along the way?
This is the assignment that Insolvency Law students at Avans University in the Netherlands have been tasked with by their tutor, Frank van der Kruis. But while tasks like this are found in written form on law courses across the world, van der Kruis has used technology to turn his assignment into an interactive simulation game that gives his students hands-on experience of managing the complexities of a real-life bankruptcy case. It’s a ground-breaking, transformational initiative that’s promising to revolutionize the teaching and learning experience at Avans University and beyond.
“One of the greatest things for me as a teacher is to say that I’ve really prepared my students to become great professionals in the real world,” he says. “This game is a crucial part of that.” Throughout the game, they will also have to interact with a chatbot created through Microsoft’s Power Virtual Agents, which will help them move on with the story. As they reach various stages of the game, the chatbot will pose legal questions to the students, who can only move on by answering the question right. “Bankruptcy cases are all about interactions with third parties, but when you have 180 students playing the game, it’s not like I can hire actors,” he continues. “So we’ve created an extraordinary new chatbot that makes up for that role.” To keep track of their progress, van der Kruis is relying on a Power BI platform that uses a Power Automate flow to capture the data and save it in a Dataverse environment. The platform can then produce real-time dashboards that allow to check how students are doing, what kinds of questions they ask and more. “For me, one of the most important things is that the students can do their work at the time that they want,” he adds. “So when we built the chatbot, I saw students use it during the weekend or late at night. That means they can complete the course in their own time.”
Democratizing digital learning for teachers and students
Now in its fourth edition, Avans’ simulation game has helped to train more than 600 students, many of whom have described it as an authentic escape room experience. “This project is very new for them because they don't have to pass any real exam,” says Roel Steendijk. “That’s exciting but also very stressful and frustrating, and that’s really what this program is about. “It's about showing them that the real world is often frustrating. That you don't just apply the rule and go on. You have unforeseeable scenarios and different stakeholders and players.”
Yet while students seem keen to give these solutions a try, convincing some teachers to do the same isn’t always as easy.
“Not everyone is immediately sold on embedding simulations into their educational design,” he continues. “Some teachers still prefer their traditional assignment-based courses.” However, this is not stopping him and Frank van der Kruis from offering them a new, different perspective on teaching. “The great thing about Microsoft’s Power Platform range is that it’s designed to help teachers to solve their own problems, which are specific for them,” he concludes. “The fact that it has a low technical threshold means that we were able to build a complex simulation system and chatbot in just months.
Technology is transforming the education sector, increasingly helping teachers around the world to provide better, more interactive learning experiences. Dutch institution Avans Applied Science University is a prime example. Here, a law teacher (with no technical background) created a simulation game designed to train students to handle a bankruptcy case as it would happen in real life. Built using Microsoft Power Platform, the game takes students through various steps of the case. All with the help of a chatbot created using Power Virtual Agents, which interacts with students and asks them legal questions. If your interestd in learning more, you can read this casestudy here.