Icon for: Eli Meir


SimBiotic Software

DIP: Using dynamic formative assessment models to enhance learning of the exp...

NSF Awards: 1227245

2018 (see original presentation & discussion)


Engaging virtual environments can be great teaching tools if they let students explore and discover on their own. In particular, interactive simulations and games can be useful for teaching the types of complex skills that require problem-solving and practice, so long as students are receiving helpful feedback to keep them on the right track.

Understanding Experimental Design is a fun new simulation-based lab developed by SimBio (www.simbio.com). As part of a cyberlearning grant from NSF, SimBio researchers developed and tested techniques for providing instant, individualized feedback within an open-ended virtual environment. In the lab, students are hired by a town council to discover the cause of a new disease infecting the town's population of cute and lovable Simploids. Finding the cause requires conducting experiments. By applying some judiciously-selected constraints on the environment and some new under-the-hood algorithms, SimBio has created a fun lab that gives students feedback and pointers on their approaches and designs as they conduct their experiments. After completing their experiments, students compile their results to provide evidence-based arguments for how fight the epidemic.

SimBio’s research addressed a tradeoff between greater freedom of exploration versus a more constrained simulation environment that allows feedback that is based on each student's current understanding. Students randomly assigned to a medium-constraint version of the lab with feedback learned to conduct better experiments and more frequently included replication in their designs than those given a version with low constraints and no feedback.

This approach should be especially useful for teaching experimental design to large and/or online undergraduate biology classes in which one-on-one attention from instructors is not feasible.

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