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Why Instrument an Educational Simulation?

In earlier blogs, I showed how we are using metacog to instrument some of our prototype TEIs (technology enhanced items). The idea is simple: as thousands or millions of learners use a DLO (digital learning object), their actions can be streamed anonymously to the metacog™ servers. This happens in the background without interfering with the DLO performance. Then data analytics can reveal how learners used the DLO.

A simulation is another type of DLO that we can instrument. Simulations allow learners to explore in a safe, controlled environment. They have been around a long time, but have been revitalized by the focus in Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards on developing meaningful and authentic practices.

PhET, based out of the University of Colorado in Boulder, is well known for developing truly open-ended, robust simulations. We worked with PhET to instrument their existing simulation on Beer’s Law. This is an inquiry-based simulation in which students discover how light is absorbed differently when different color lasers pass through different solutions. Watch this video to see how it works.

You can click on Beer’s Law to play with the instrumented simulation below. I want to emphasize that the log is for demo purposes only; learners normally would not see the data being collected anonymously.

Perhaps you experienced some frustration figuring out what to do in the simulation. Where are the instructions? Did I get the right answer? I want my feedback! We have been trained from an early age to select the correct answer, so we have come to expect an answer, and consequently feel like something is missing when there isn’t one.

Some teachers may not like such an open-ended exploration. How will I control what my students are doing? They may go off in so many directions! Is there any evidence that they are learning?

In our next blog, we’ll show some visualizations of the data collected. In the meantime, we’d like to pose a question: How would you go about grading a student’s performance in the simulation?

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please join in the conversation by using the comments.


The Beer’s Law Lab simulation was developed by PhET. ©2013 University of Colorado. For more information, visit PhET at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The metacog™ learning platform is a powerful and advanced technology for improving learning outcomes at scale. Metacog has assembled a world-class team of data engineers, data scientists, learning scientists, educational data miners, researchers, and software developers in the mission to create the first real-time scalable data layer around learning. For more information on how to instrument a new DLO, or retrofit existing DLOs, visit this metacog developer page.

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