Discovery and experiential-based learning with computer simulations.

Flescher, Eric Z., Ed.D., University of Kansas, 1997.


Computer simulations are praised for development of students' inquiry, decision making and reasoning skills. Educators and researchers continue to recommend the use of computer simulations as a technological resource for teaching and learning purposes. However research concerning the effectiveness and role of computer simulations as a learning and teaching medium has been inconclusive. This study used observational data to describe childrens' interactions with a computer simulation.

Rocky's Boots, selected for use in this study, is an award winning program designed to develop skills in logical problem solving, abstract reasoning and creative thinking. The program's content includes electronic circuitry, circuit design, and electronic devices. Controlling the pace within the discovery based-environment, participants attempt to solve the task oriented puzzles in thirty game situations within the six levels of the simulation.

This study uses qualitative research methods of participant observation and documentation analysis, to gather information as the participants worked with the computer simulation. Six participants, two females and four males, ages 9-13, were videotaped using the simulation over a period of two weeks. A journal of the participants' activities were transcribed from the videotapes. These transcribed written entries were coded according to the researcher's analysis of the videotapes that showed the students' actions. The entries were analyzed, to identify patterns and relationships of the participants' activities within the simulation. Results and conclusions were drawn from these data.

The participant with the highest total of points compared to the five other participants was classified as the expert. This "expert" learner, to a greater extent and more consistently, used the following learning strategies: flexibility, creativity, problem posing ability, metacognition (planning and describing problem solving steps), was a spontaneous risk taker and occasionally did not attempt or complete tasks. This participant practiced being an E. J. A. W.--an explorer, judge, artist and warrior.

To maximize the use of computer simulations for all students, additional software based tutorials, instructional strategies and teacher interventions may be needed to supplement hands-on computer experiences.