A Simulation Primer

A Simulation Primer

Katrin Becker (University of Calgary, Canada) and James R. Parker (University of Calgary, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-322-7.ch001
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This chapter provides an introduction to digital simulations for those interested in using or designing them for instructional purposes. There has been some disagreement in various circles about how to define simulations and digital games and this issue is addressed. The two primary categories of simulation (discrete and continuous) are also described as well as their basic structure. Reasons to use simulations and how they may be used in educational applications are outlined. After having read this chapter, readers will have a clearer picture of what simulations are and how they can be used.
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Appropriate practice is the single most neglected aspect of effective instruction. (Merrill, 2001, p.464)

Simulations offer opportunities for appropriate practice within contextualized learning environments that are not bound by what is safe, reasonable, or sometimes even possible in real life. Simulations (and games too) are being discussed with renewed interest in both formal and informal educational circles. Though some forms of digital simulations have been broadly accepted as educational technologies for many years, it is only recently that excitement about digital games as educational objects has come to the forefront, and this has returned simulations to the limelight as well. In truth, from a technological standpoint, games are simulations although many educators still distinguish between them. For evidence of this distinction, one need only notice that many schools allow their learners to use educational simulations at school, while games remain strictly ‘verboten’. What do we stand to lose from barring games while purporting to espouse modern instructional technologies? What can we gain by understanding how they can be the same? This chapter will answer these questions, and others.

As is the case for any educational technology, whether it be a blackboard, textbook, or a virtual world such as Second Life1, teachers cannot be expected to embrace any of these things as tools for learning without a sound understanding of their potential as well as their limitations, and they should not be expected to use them in class unless they are confident in their ability to use them effectively to enhance learning and this comes with the experience of use. This includes the use of simulations, and the main goal of this chapter is to introduce the field of digital simulations. As a subject of study, digital simulation is typically taught in post-secondary computer science programs towards the end of a four-year program, and such courses usually include a large textbook, a considerable amount of math, assume considerable programming expertise, and an expectation that those taking the course will come out of it being able to design and program their own simulations. Such a course would not be suitable for most educators, but an educator should not need a computer science degree in order to understand simulations well enough to use them. While the authors believe quite strongly that it is important to have a thorough understanding of any technology one intends to build or use for learning purposes, it is also true that the depth of understanding needed to implement a simulation is quite different from the level of understanding needed to use one effectively as a tool.

This introduction is intended for educators and any others interested in understanding digital simulations better. It is not intended as an introduction to simulation for computer scientists, engineers, or statisticians.

After reading this chapter, it is hoped that readers will:

  • 1.

    Be able to describe the distinctions between computer (i.e. digital) simulations and other simulations such as live action role play, and physical models.

  • 2.

    Have a clearer understanding of what a digital simulation is in both the larger sense as understood by the computer simulation community at large, and in the narrower sense as it pertains to education.

  • 3.

    Be able to describe what distinguishes a discrete event simulation from a continuous simulation.

  • 4.

    Understand how all digital games can be seen as simulations and the implications of distinguishing between games and simulations based on traditional educational definitions.

  • 5.

    Be able to describe the basic anatomy of a digital simulation and explain the roles that each part plays.

  • 6.

    Define pseudo-random number and explain the role of randomness in a simulation.

  • 7.

    Appreciate the pivotal role of time in all digital simulations.

  • 8.

    Appreciate the distinction between being a subject matter expert in something, being able to describe that thing so it can be simulated, and actually implementing and testing the simulation.

  • 9.

    Understand why a faithfully realistic simulation may not be an effective tool for learning in most situations.

  • 10.

    Be able to identify situations where simulations could enrich learning.

  • 11.

    Be able to assess whether there is a need for expert help when designing simulations for the classroom, as well as to critique the potential effectiveness of a simulation design.

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
About the Contributors