Active Learning in a Simulated Environment

Luis A. Godoy


This work emphasizes novel ways to teach and learn which can be developed by most instructors provided that they have the patience and interest to produce class innovations using computers. The specific approach discussed in what follows is known as “learning-by-doing in a virtual environment”. This is an approach initially explored by Roger Schank since the 1990s with emphasis on learning for the workplace, and it has been adapted by the author to address engineering education. Schank proposed that learning which is done in a computer should involve the participants in such a way that they perform a task to accomplish a mission assigned to them. The basic idea is to train students to do sophisticated tasks in a way similar to what an expert would do, and the only way to verify if the learner has learned a lesson is to ask her to perform a task in specific situations. The general conclusion is that in most cases a young student cannot learn in the real world because failure to perform up to a standard has severe consequences and may lead to high costs. Thus, one is left with a simulated situation in which the student may perform in a virtual world and there are no consequences if she makes a wrong choice or follows a wrong path. The center of this approach is the detailed reconstruction of a case, so that the students can perform some activity, such as role-playing, further explorations, etc. The general format of all tools developed in this research as learning modules include a problem statement, in which the participant is informed of the specific task that is required to be accomplished by her. If the participant accepts the challenge, then the system allows multiple paths to be followed in order to gather information and expert advice. There is a virtual
library, in which literature related to the case is available; a computer room, in which computations can be carried out to obtain data for the case; there is expert advice, in which typical questions related to the topic are responded by experts in this field; and there is a navigation dimension, in which the
participant can interact with the case by means of asking questions to virtual characters, exploring data specific for this case, going to a virtual field, and others. As a result, the participant should provide her response to the problem statement which originated the study. Construction of the navigation tool is made by means of a web-page with a tree structure. A number of simulations have been implemented, with differences in contents and also in complexity.

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