Complex Systems Concepts in Simulations

Complex Systems Concepts in Simulations

David Gibson (CurveShift Inc., USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-322-7.ch024
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This chapter discusses how a teaching simulation can embody core characteristics of a complex system. It employs examples of specific frameworks and strategies used in simSchool, a research and development project supported by two programs of the U. S. Department of Education: Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (2004-2006), and currently, the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (2006-2009). The chapter assumes that a complex system simulation engine and representation is needed in teaching simulations because teaching and learning are complex phenomena. The chapter’s two goals are to introduce core ideas of complex systems and to illustrate with examples from simSchool, a simulation of teaching and learning.
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One of the most challenging problems facing new teachers is to figure out how to maximize learning for each child in the classroom, an admittedly complex task. For example, one child may learn best if taught simple content via a lecture and assessed using an interview. But another child may dislike those approaches so much that when assessed, the student will perform far below their level of ability or knowledge. Some students come to class with social problems, others with deeply rooted psychological ones, and still others are just having a temporary bad day. The number of choices and complexity of options in each moment of class is daunting. The challenge is to find a set of strategies that allow the most learning by all students. In other words, preservice teachers need to seek ways to connect student learning with their teaching and make the changes necessary to aid student achievement while working in a complex environment.

Core ideas about complex systems arise in many branches of science, each of which adds a unique perspective to the definition. For example, from mathematics and physics come concepts such as chaos, transition states, and dynamics. From ecology come notions of system evolution, diversity, and genetic crossover. Because of this diversity of perspectives, a single formal definition of complex systems that would satisfy all disciplines is problematic.

In addition, some confusion exists between defining systems that are complicated versus those that are complex. Complex systems are more than complicated; they are unpredictable in their details, even though they may operate within well-defined boundaries, while systems that are merely complicated are highly predictable and have parts that are connected in stable, unchanging relationships. For example, a mechanical watch is complicated, but not complex. It is complicated because there are a great many moving parts (e.g. gears, wheels and hour and minute hands) with highly detailed relationships. But a watch is not complex because it is highly predictable and if we take out one or two gears, it would stop working. A biological clock that regulates aging, on the other hand, is both complicated and complex. It has a great number of elements in various relationships, but if one or two of those elements are removed, the clock will adapt and keep going.

However, in spite of these differences in perspective and difficulties in defining a complex system, an informal definition can help point out some main characteristics:

A complex system is one whose evolution is very sensitive to initial conditions or to small perturbations, one in which the number of independent interacting components is large, or one in which there are multiple pathways by which the system can evolve. (Whitesides and Ismagilov 1999)

Applying this definition to what we know about teaching and learning, it is relatively straightforward to describe how initial conditions matter a great deal. A teacher’s background knowledge and years of experience or a learner’s socioeconomic status and early learning experience have large effects on performance. Likewise, the number of variables involved in learning (e.g. the clusters of interacting variables in psychological, social, intellectual, and physical domains) is certainly large. Also, the number of interacting clusters of variables involved in planning, communicating, monitoring, and applying differentiated instructional strategies is large for teaching. In addition, there are a multiplicity of pathways in which a teacher or learner grows and matures over time; people from similar backgrounds with similar life experiences can diverge widely in their strengths, interests and aspirations. Similar things can be said about the social complexities of classrooms and society at large. It is safe to assert that teaching and learning involve complex behavior embedded in and arising from complex systems. Thus, it is useful to understand some of the basic ideas of complex systems as part of the foundation for developing and using teaching simulations.

Several core characteristics of complex systems—nonlinearity, feedback loops, openness, memory, nested relationships and emergent properties—expand the informal definition and provide a starting point for describing features that a simulation needs in order to embody complex system behavior (Table 1). The system of teaching and learning relationships that are modeled by simSchool utilize these concepts and provide specific examples.

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Rhonda Christensen, Gerald Knezek
Chapter 1
A Simulation Primer  (pages 1-24)
Katrin Becker, James R. Parker
This chapter provides an introduction to digital simulations for those interested in using or designing them for instructional purposes. There has... Sample PDF
A Simulation Primer
Chapter 2
Youngkyun Baek
This chapter expands upon the definition of a simulation with two categories: experiential and symbolic. It discusses the interactive, experiential... Sample PDF
Digital Simulation in Teaching and Learning
Chapter 3
Peter R. Albion
Interaction is fundamental to the learning process and game-like 3D online spaces present opportunities for enhancing learning through supporting a... Sample PDF
Virtual Spaces for Teaching and Learning
Chapter 4
David Williamson Shaffer
Multiculturalism is an essential tool for democratic citizenship in a world made ever more closely interconnected by information technologies. In... Sample PDF
Computers and the End of Progressive Education
Chapter 5
Celina Byers
The desired outcome of instructional game design is to combine the powerful attraction of games and the proven effectiveness of instructional system... Sample PDF
Combining Instructional Design and Game Design
Chapter 6
Helyn Gould, Michael Hughes, Paul Maharg, Emma Nicol
Game-based learning and simulation is a powerful mode of learning, used by industries as diverse as aviation and health sciences. While there are... Sample PDF
The Narrative Event Diagram: A Tool for Designing Professional Simulations
Chapter 7
David Gibson
In order for a digital simulation to provide an artificial teaching environment there needs to be a computational model of the act of teaching... Sample PDF
Modeling Classroom Behaviors in Software Agents
Chapter 8
Sara Dexter
The new technology-enhanced conception of assessment stands in contrast to the traditional view of assessments as tests of a learner’s ability to... Sample PDF
Design Principles for Interactive Learning Environments with Embedded Formative Assessments
Chapter 9
Penny deByl
Three-dimensional virtual learning environments provide students with pedagogic experiences beyond traditional two-dimensional textbook and Web page... Sample PDF
Hybrid 2D/3D Development of Interactive Simulations
Chapter 10
Len Annetta, James Minogue, Shawn Holmes, Meng-Tzu Cheng, Elizabeth Folta, Marta Klesath
This chapter will provide concrete examples of how a research group at North Carolina State University is using case studies as the... Sample PDF
Using Case Studies as the Narrative to Game Design and Development
Chapter 11
Mark Girod
Teacher education is currently facing pressures to demonstrate efficacy in preparing teachers who can affect P-12 student learning gains. Teacher... Sample PDF
Exploring Teacher Problem Solving Using Simulation
Chapter 12
Donguk Cheong, Bokyeong Kim
A computer simulation for improving teaching is expected to remove the potential negative effects on real students while creating an environment... Sample PDF
A Simulation for Improving Teachers' Motivational Skills
Chapter 13
Damián Piccolo, Anna Oskorus
Nearly half of all new teachers leave the field of education within the first five years (Ingersoll, 2003; Alliance for Excellent Education, 2005).... Sample PDF
Designing Commercial Simulations for Teachers
Chapter 14
Scott J. Warren, Richard A. Stein
This chapter discusses the design and use of simulated teaching experiences contextualized through role-play in a multi-user virtual environment as... Sample PDF
Simulating Teaching Experience with Role-Play
Chapter 15
Bokyeong Kim, Donguk Cheong
This chapter presents the theory, structure, and development process used in designing a teaching simulation. simClass was designed to help teachers... Sample PDF
simClass: Simulate Your Class Before You Teach
Chapter 16
Karen Schrier, Charles K. Kinzer
Teacher education that emphasizes the understanding and assessment of ethics can support the creation of an ethically aware and critically engaged... Sample PDF
Using Digital Games to Develop Ethical Teachers
Chapter 17
Shelby P. Morge
Recently adopted 21st Century goals stress the importance of preparing students for a globally competitive society by providing them with... Sample PDF
Modeling in the Classroom Using Squeak Etoys
Chapter 18
Mary Jo Dondlinger, Scott Joseph Warren
This chapter discusses Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) as simulated experiences, and presents the conceptual framework that informed the design and... Sample PDF
Alternate Reality Games as Simulations
Chapter 19
Caitlin Kelleher
Self-directed, open-ended projects can enable students to pursue their own interests and lead to deep learning. However, it can be difficult to... Sample PDF
Supporting Open-Ended Programming Assignments
Chapter 20
Kay Kyeongju Seo, Aimee Byk, Chris Collins
How can one bring cognitive apprenticeship into the virtual world? This chapter addresses how to construct a 3D online digital environment that... Sample PDF
Cognitive Apprenticeship Inspired Simulations
Chapter 21
Jae Yeob Jung, Hyung Sung Park
The purpose of this chapter is to explore how learning, by making games, can provide opportunities for higher-order thinking such as problem... Sample PDF
Learning by Doing via Game Making
Chapter 22
Christian Sebastian Loh, Jae Hwan Byun
Game Modification, or Modding, is a unique and valuable way of learning with digital games as well as a means to earn beginners’ stripes in the game... Sample PDF
Modding Neverwinter Nights Into Serious Games
Chapter 23
Teresa Franklin, David Chelberg, Chang Liu
Virtual environments are a topic of discussion for many in the business and commerce fields. However, K-12 school systems have been slow to embrace... Sample PDF
Changing Middle School Science through STEAM
Chapter 24
David Gibson
This chapter discusses how a teaching simulation can embody core characteristics of a complex system. It employs examples of specific frameworks and... Sample PDF
Complex Systems Concepts in Simulations
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