Research in Science Education

, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 293–324 | Cite as

A Scaffolding Framework to Support Learning of Emergent Phenomena Using Multi-Agent-Based Simulation Environments

  • Satabdi Basu
  • Pratim Sengupta
  • Gautam BiswasEmail author


Students from middle school to college have difficulties in interpreting and understanding complex systems such as ecological phenomena. Researchers have suggested that students experience difficulties in reconciling the relationships between individuals, populations, and species, as well as the interactions between organisms and their environment in the ecosystem. Multi-agent-based computational models (MABMs) can explicitly capture agents and their interactions by representing individual actors as computational objects with assigned rules. As a result, the collective aggregate-level behavior of the population dynamically emerges from simulations that generate the aggregation of these interactions. Past studies have used a variety of scaffolds to help students learn ecological phenomena. Yet, there is no theoretical framework that supports the systematic design of scaffolds to aid students’ learning in MABMs. Our paper addresses this issue by proposing a comprehensive framework for the design, analysis, and evaluation of scaffolding to support students’ learning of ecology in a MABM. We present a study in which middle school students used a MABM to investigate and learn about a desert ecosystem. We identify the different types of scaffolds needed to support inquiry learning activities in this simulation environment and use our theoretical framework to demonstrate the effectiveness of our scaffolds in helping students develop a deep understanding of the complex ecological behaviors represented in the simulation..


Inquiry learning Simulation-based learning environments Multi-agent simulations Scaffolding Design-based research Multiple representations Ecology education 



The authors’ acknowledgment support from NSF Cyberlearning grant # 1237350 for this work.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Software Integrated Systems, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer ScienceVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Teaching and LearningVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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