Aspects of computer simulations in education
Van Berkum, J. J. A., Hijne, H., De Jong, T., Van Joolingen, W. R., & Njoo, M.
Aspects of computer simulations in education. Education & Computing, 6
Computer simulations in an instructional context can be characterized according to four aspects (themes): simulation models, learning goals, learning processes and learner activity. The present paper provides an outline of these four themes.
The main classification criterion for simulation models is quantitative vs. qualitative models. For quantitative models a further subdivision can be made by classifying the independent and dependent variables as continuous or discrete. A second criterion is whether one of the independent variables is time, thus distinguishing dynamic and static models. Qualitative models on the other hand use propositions about non-quantitative properties of a system or they describe quantitative aspects in a qualitative way. Related to the underlying model is the interaction with it. When this interaction has a normative counterpart in the real world we call it a procedure.
The second theme of learning with computer simulation concerns learning goals. A learning goal is principally classified along three dimensions, which specify different aspects of the knowledge involved. The first dimension, knowledge category, indicates that a learning goal can address principles, concepts and/or facts (conceptual knowledge) or procedures (performance sequences). The second dimension, knowledge representation, captures the fact that knowledge can be represented in a more declarative (articulate, explicit), or in a more compiled (implicit) format, each one having its own advantages and drawbacks. The third dimension, knowledge scope, involves the learning goal's relation with the simulation domain; knowledge can be specific to a particular domain, or generalizable over classes of domains (generic). A more or less separate type of learning goal refers to knowledge acquisition skills that are pertinent to learning in an exploratory environment.
Learning processes constitute the third theme. Learning processes are defined as cognitive actions of the learner. Learning processes can be classified using a multilevel scheme. The first (highest) of these levels gives four main categories: orientation, hypothesis generation, testing and evaluation. Examples of more specific processes are model exploration and output interpretation.
The fourth theme of learning with computer simulations is learner activity. Learner activity is defined as the ‘physical’ interaction of the learner with the simulations (as opposed to the mental interaction that was described in the learning processes). Five main categories of learner activity are distinguished: defining experimental settings (variables, parameters etc.), interaction process choices (deciding a next step), collecting data, choice of data presentation and metacontrol over the simulation.