Best Practices for



1. Pedagogical method: open exploration by the learner.

Exploration means that the learner must be able to change parameters in the simulation model and observe the resulting changes in system behavior. Since the model includes both the system under study and external conditions applied to the system, the learner should be able to change parameters in both. Note the difference between an animation and a simulation: Both can be repeated over and over, but the animation follows a fixed script, while a simulation can be different each time, depending on parameter settings made by the learner.


2. One simulation model may be shown in many pages.

The first step in designing a learning module (with or without simulations!) is to write and organize the learning objectives. Each page or presentation in the module should have a clear learning objective. The objective will determine the choice of input and output objects included in the visual design of the page and the choice of parameters and variables attached to the objects. In other words, do not present all parameters for variation on a single page, but only those pertinent to the current learning objective. Learning objectives should also be presented to the learner at the beginning of the module.


3. Make the simulation highly visual.

Numbers -- whether input or output -- are made more understandable through visual devices. Sliders, knobs, and maps are some of the choices for controlling model parameters. To display calculated system variables, there are many devices ranging from meters and graphs to two- and three-dimensional objects that move or change their shape or color.


4. Let the learner control the pace through the module.

True exploration must allow the learner to spend as much time as he or she chooses on each page and simulation. The rate of progress through a learning module containing simulations should thus be controlled by the learner. A typical method is to provide Anext@ and Aback@ buttons. Simulations should also be able to be repeated as many times as the learner wishes.


5. Mix simulations with text and other multimedia.

Presenting an isolated simulation can leave the learner puzzled, not knowing how to proceed. Text, drawings, diagrams, pictures, and video clips can be used to lay the groundwork for exploration, defining terms, relationships, and principles. The trick is to provide just enough direction, without spoiling the fun of discovery through exploration!


6. Provide instructions and help for the simulations.

Make sure that the learner knows how to utilize all aspects of the simulation. A quick introduction or tutorial can be included at the beginning of the module. Helps such as tool-tips and status bar hints can be included on each page.

7. Encourage comparisons between simulation runs.

A very effective method of exploration is comparison of simulation runs with different input parameter values. Visual devices can be used to aid such comparisons. For example, in a graph each run result can be shown in a different color or with different symbols. Identification of the colors and symbols with parameter values in a legend table helps the user make the correct visual association.


8. Give the learner a chance for self assessment.

A good learning experience can be solidified by giving the learner an opportunity to test themselves on what they have learned. Standard question types can be used with automatic tabulation, or a simulation can be made available to help the student answer a question experimentally.



9. Provide an opportunity for feedback.

Learning modules also need to be evaluated and this information can be collected through questions at the end of the module. It is also possible to collect information about the learner=s progress through the module such as the number of simulation runs on each page, the number and range of parameter values tested, etc.

Mailen Kootsey

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