Date: 30 Mar 2010

Mr. Vetro: A Collective Simulation for teaching health science

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Why has technology become prevalent in science education without fundamentally improving test scores or student attitudes? We claim that the core of the problem is how technology is being used. Technologies such as simulations are currently not used to their full potential. For instance, physiology simulations often follow textbooks by sequentially exposing individual systems such as the circulatory and respiratory systems one at a time, leaving out essential comprehension of system interactions. Moreover, the standard computer lab hides students behind large monitors and ignores the social aspect of learning. We have created a new kind of infrastructure, called Collective Simulations to provide engaging inquiry-based science learning modules that uniquely combine social learning pedagogies with distributed simulation technology. This infrastructure creates immersive learning experiences based on wirelessly connected computers and enables radically different classroom learning experiences that engage students and teachers simultaneously. Collective Simulations allow students to learn about the intricacies of interdependent complex systems by engaging in discourse with other students and teachers. As part of our Mr. Vetro Collective Simulation, students learn about physiology through technology-enhanced role-play. Each group controls physiological variables of a single organ on their computer. A central simulation gathers all the data and projects the composite view of a human. In an example activity, the heart and lung teams collaborate to adjust parameters and reach homeostasis. Results from formal evaluation studies demonstrate a positive impact on scientific inquiry, student learning, and students’ interest in personal health issues. This article describes Mr. Vetro and its underlying architecture and presents the evaluation results.