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Cognitively Informed Simulations

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Building Cognitively Informed Simulators Utilizing Multiple, LinkedRepresentations Which Explain Core Concepts in Modern BiologyDiana Marie Bajzek, Office of Technology for Education, Carnegie Mellon University, USA [email protected] M. Burnette, Department of Biological Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, USA [email protected] E. Brown, Department of Biological Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, USA [email protected]: The purpose of this paper is to share the process and products of a simulation/tutorialenvironment under development to be used in the online Modern Biology course for the OpenLearning Initiative (OLI), at Carnegie Mellon University, funded by the William and Flora HewlettFoundation. This project is devoted to developing “cognitively informed”, and openly available,online courses and course materials.While in the early stages of course development, we are focusing on the creation of simulationenvironments, interactive animations and reference materials, to address key concepts identified bycognitive task analyses within the domain areas.As we move beyond the initial development stages of our simulation environment, we will test thisenvironment before continuing to construct additional simulation tools and storyboard scripts.We want to encourage instructors, and instructional material developers from other institutions toevaluate our environment, provide feedback and contribute new tools to the toolbox.In the Pursuit of Enhancing Course ContentIntroductionWe are developing simulation environments that facilitate multiple, linked representations of concepts to be used indifferent learning contexts. They will allow guided inquiry as well as student directed experimentation and dataanalysis. These environments will be the interactive components of an online Modern Biology course being createdas part of the Online Learning Initiative (OLI) project at Carnegie Mellon University (http://www.cmu.edu/oli/).(Smith & Thille 2004)In the teaching of Biology, scientific terms, illustrations and standard 2D representations (graphs and symbols) usedin standard practice are what are made available to students in their textbook and classroom lectures. While expertsof the domain can easily interpret these terms and representations, novices may struggle to understand theirmeaning. As a set of visual representations, scientific formats are likely to take a place alongside charts and graphsas representations that students must master to become competent decision makers in a world that is increasinglyinfluenced by science and technology (Edelson et al. 1999). While additional illustrations, animations and instructorexplanations can help, for many students, comprehension of these representations is not complete withoutexperimentation and the manipulation of real objects in the lab.Lab experience is not always possible given the enrollment size of the classes, cost, personnel, and space limitations.Many educators and online courses are turning to animations and other multimedia presentations to replace the labexperience. Some of these are guided tours with a minimal amount of student input, while others are exploratorysimulations of a laboratory setting. Students find these multimedia tools useful because they can complete them attheir own pace, as well as benefit from multiple repeats of the simulation.Lab vs. SimulationsAlthough lab experience may seem ideal, it may not be the most beneficial for the students. For example, it is not avery controlled environment for learning. Usually one cannot pause a lab experiment to point out what is happening.Experiments, especially biological reactions, often occur in the abstract since the actual reaction is intangible andinvisible. Simulations can address these problems. They can be constructed to magnify key situations as well aslinking to data, charts and simulated recording instruments. Research shows that students benefit from multiplerepresentations of concepts. Our simulation environment is designed to make it easy for the instructor to link thesemultiple representations.Simulations provide the opportunity to isolate parameters and explore them directly. They can provide explanationsat opportune times, whereas a real experiment often cannot be stopped or the instructor is helping other students.Simulations allow the students to repeat the experiment multiple times, if they wish. Experiments are multiple stepprocesses, often occurring over multiple days, with many opportunities for failure and loss of learning opportunities.Simulations facilitate the compression of time, in order to complete experiments and reduce the opportunities forfailure. So, while wet lab experiments are valuable to the students, the use of simulation environments to augmentthe instruction provides numerous additional values.Problem Getting Appropriate SimulationsWhile simulations can be useful to students, they require much of the educators time to develop and are often shortlived: either due to lack of continued interest by the instructor, lack of time to develop, lack of supporting software,or hardware obsolescence. Further, these pieces are often developed on a course-by-course basis usually withoutinstructor coordination or thought to reusability.One solution to this problem is to purchase a set of tools from textbook or software publishers. A major limitation,with even the best of these materials, is that they reflect the ideas and perspectives of the publisher rather than theinstructor, and are not easily re-purposed. Thus, an instructor must design his class around a set of objectives thatmay not meet their criteria or course. This is backwards; the objectives of the local course should dictate the contentof interactive multimedia. These materials should allow instructors to collaborate to design common content andtools with varying levels of difficulty for several courses. Designing custom content and interactive tools, as well asa delivery environment that can collect information from students and return feedback and grades, is moredevelopment effort than most courses or departments can afford.Our SolutionEnvironment for Inquiry Based ActivityInquiry, or the pursuit of open questions, is fundamental to the practice of science. Part of teaching Modern Biologymust incorporate an appreciation for, and


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