Computer Games and Simulations for Investigation and Education

Course Info

Course Number/Code: 11.127 (Spring 2005)
Course Title: Computer Games and Simulations for Investigation and Education
Course Level: Undergraduate / Graduate
Offered By: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
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Department: Urban Studies and Planning
Course Instructor(s): Prof. Eric Klopfer
Course Introduction:
Syllabus Course Overview

During the past ten years, simulation modeling, especially as it helps people to understand complex systems, has become a mainstream use of computational technology. The widespread popularity of "edutainment" software like SimCityTM and Civilization® gives a clear indication of the extent to which simulation games have permeated popular culture. As these and other games have found places in the classroom, researchers have tried to ascertain what and how students learn from these environments, and what implications this has for software and curriculum design.

While it can be useful to experiment with pre-built models like SimCityTM, a deeper understanding can come through building and manipulating models whose underlying structure is accessible. Just as a young child learns more by building a bridge out of blocks instead of merely playing with a pre-fabricated bridge, designing and creating your own models provide richer learning experiences than simply playing with pre-built models. This learning process is critically important in domains that require an understanding of complex systems, from economics and mathematics to physics and biology.

In this project-based course, students from all disciplines are encouraged to understand how we learn from computer environments, develop and investigate systems and ideas from their fields of study, and delve into the process of building and testing models and simulations. In the first part of the course we will explore the design and use of games and simulations in the classroom, and the research and development issues associated with this software. We will then explore various modeling and simulation software packages, criteria for developing the most appropriate simulation for a given situation, and methods for evaluating the success and utility of models. We will also study what and how people learn from simulations (including field testing of software), and how modeling and simulation tools can be implemented in educational settings. All levels of computer experience welcome. Graduate students are expected to complete additional assignments.