Using physical and computer simulations of collective behaviour as an introduction to modelling concepts for applied biologists

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

Abstract

Models are an important tool in science: not only do they act as a convenient device for describing a system or problem, but they also act as a conceptual tool for framing and exploring hypotheses. Models, and in particular computer simulations, are also an important education tool for training scientists, but it is difficult to teach students the value and use of models as a conceptual tool in their own right. Within the applied and whole-organism biological sciences, students often enter their courses with little trust of their mathematical abilities, and teaching them that scientific models are tools that they can engage with themselves is arguably a difficult task (especially given limitations in curriculum time and prior background knowledge). Here, I describe a half-day practical session designed to introduce modelling concepts to undergraduates on an applied biology course. This practical follows a progression from observation of a natural phenomenon (flocking behaviour in animals), to hypothesis formation, and then simulation of these hypotheses using a mixture of physical activity and individual computer work using agent-based models. Discussion focuses on why physical activity may be important for the students to be able to properly understand and appreciate the computer simulations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Number of pages10
JournalBioscience Education
Volume19
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012

Keywords

  • flocking
  • group behaviour
  • simulations
  • complexity
  • teaching/learning strategies

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