Component-Based Tools for Educational Simulations
Thesis DisciplineComputer Science
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
e-Learning is an effective medium for delivering knowledge and skills. In spite of improvements in electronic delivery technologies, e-Learning is still a long way away from offering anything close to efficient and effective learning environments. To improve e-Learning experiences, much literature supports simulation based e-Learning. This thesis begins identifying various types of simulation models and their features that induce experiential learning. We focus on designing and constructing an easy-to-use Discrete Event Simulation (DES) tool for building engaging and informative interactive DES models that allow learners to control the models’ parameters and visualizations through runtime interactions. DES has long been used to support analysis and design of complex systems but its potential to enhance learning has not yet been fully utilized. We first present an application framework and its resulting classes for better structuring DES models. However, importing relevant classes, establishing relationships between their objects and representing lifecycles of various types of active objects in a language that does not support concurrency demand a significant cognitive workload. To improve this situation, we utilize two design patterns to ease model structuring and logic representation (both in time and space) through a drag and drop component approach. The patterns are the Delegation Event Model, used for linking between components and delegating tasks of executing and updating active objects’ lifecycles, and the MVC (Model-View-Controller) pattern, used for connecting the components to their graphical instrumentations and GUIs. Components implementing both design patterns support the process-oriented approach, can easily be tailored to store model states and visualizations, and can be extended to design higher level models through hierarchical simulation development. Evaluating this approach with both teachers and learners using ActionScript as an implementation language in the Flash environment shows that the resulting components not only help model designers with few programming skills to construct DES models, but they also allow learners to conduct various experiments through interactive GUIs and observe the impact of changes to model behaviour through a range of engaging visualizations. Such interactions can motivate learners and make their learning an enjoyable experience.