Advantages and disadvantages of model-driven computer simulation
Abstract from e-book of Rik Min: chapter 1, paragraph 3
Many advantages can be cited with respect to the use of computer simulation programs in education. A number of these do not specifically relate to simulation only but also to the validity for practical laboratories or the use of the computer in education in general. There are some specific advantages connected with computer simulation. First, some general advantageous aspects of simulation as a form and method of learning will be indicated.
- Computer simulation offers the opportunity to experiment with phenomena or events, which for a number of reasons, cannot normally be experimented with in the traditional way. Bork (1981) remarks: 'Simulations provide students with experience that may be difficult or impossible to obtain in every day life'.
In class it is e.g. not possible to experiment actively with an economic system. The only thing the teacher can do is to discuss the nature and content of the system. Experimenting would surely be useful because this can generate an insight into the functioning of the economic system.
- Computer simulation programs can be used in education to give the student more feeling for reality in some abstract fields of learning. Foster (1984) says about this: 'Simulations can be entertaining because of dramatic and game-like components'.
- When a teacher tries to explain a difficult interrelationship, such as a hybridization experiment with fruit flies in the traditional way it is likely that part of the class will fail to understand. Execution of the real experiment is impossible because this would take a number of weeks and can therefore not be integrated as such within a lesson. When, after the necessary theoretical discussion of the material, a simulation experiment follows there will be a greater chance that more students will understand a complete relationship, such as a hybridization experiment.
According to Elron (1983) the best simulation does not have to resemble reality in the most accurate way. The power of simulation often lies, according to him, in the simplification of reality. Good simplifications provide students with a better insight into reality than by examining all components of a complex situation.
While working with a computer simulation program the student is experimenting, so he or she is playing an active rather than a passive role. This active engagement contrasts with the situation students often experience during 'face-to-face' teaching when they listen passively. Simulation creates, according to Foster, an interactive educational setting which offers the possibility to effect changes in relation to the learning experience in a more efficient way than is normally possible with other didactic methods.
It is obvious that computer simulation does not work to its intended advantage on face-to-face teaching (lecture type). Nor does it stand alone. Only when computer simulation is appropriately alternated with other didactic forms, will it render a positive result. Working with a computer simulation program often evokes enthusiasm in the student and as such it has a positive influence on his motivation. Spitzer remarks on this:
'Simulations are highly motivating, both intrinsically and extrinsically.'
However, no educational tool is effective for everyone. A differentiated supply of educational support tools is therefore important. A computer simulation program is one of them.
Working with a computer simulation program can increase the interest of a student about a subject. This can express itself in the fact that students will often study relevant literature concerning the subject after using a simulation more than they would have done with the traditional approaches to learning. The subject is discussed more among students and special experiences are mentioned.
The computer can be used as a didactic medium and in this form it can serve as a tool to realize a chosen educational strategy and to reach the set goals in a way that would otherwise have been impossible. But what justifies the use of computer simulation within the situation of the classroom? Which specific didactic functions can computer simulation fulfil in education?
Often the technical possibilities and the particularly effective calculating capacity of the computer are advanced in order to justify a switch to the use of computer simulations in classrooms. These reasons, according to Wedekind (1981), are not enough, especially from an educational point of view. The didactic functions that are possible with computer simulation are much more important.
Students are then offered the possibility to experiment with the real world system, though it is simulated. Computer simulation also offers the possibility to repeat the experiment as often as necessary, i.e. until the intended insight into the system has been acquired. It is also possible to do extreme things in computer simulation and to observe the results, contrary to many traditional experiments.
The use of computer simulation does not, however, can not replace the practical laboratory. However, when experience with aspects of a real experiment is considered important but a practical laboratory only has a limited capacity, then working with a computer simulation program can increase the impact of practical work.
As was said earlier there can be different reasons why the traditional experiment cannot be used in the educational situation, even though the experiment would be desirable because the student's insight could be positively enhanced by doing so. Then computer simulation can be a blessing. We now mention some possible advantages as well as some disadvantages of computer simulation as an educational tool for instruction and training.
Some advantages of computer simulation as an educational tool or for training are:
There are not only advantages connected with the use of computer simulation programs in education and training. Limitations are in some cases the result of the wrong or inappropriate use of such programs. Possible limitations of a general and educational kind are: