Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Simulated Students: Pinocchio goes to school.

What is simulation?

Simulation is a way of understanding the world by building a simpler model of a complex structure or system being studied. (Gilbert & Troitzsch, 2005). It is great for exploring and developing theories about social processes including education.

What are simulated students?

Simulated students are machine learning systems whose behavior is consistent with data from human students. It can be used by teachers to practice their tutoring skills. It can be used as a collaborative learner that can shift from novice to expert as the need arises. It can be used by instructional designers to test their instruction. (VanLehn, Ohlsson, & Nason, 1994)

There are some researches on these three uses, and they will be noted in the following section.

Researches on simulated students

Simulated students for teacher training

Zibit and Gibson reported an on-going project called simSchool which aims to train novice teachers in teaching 7th-12th grade students. (2005) Their simulated students appear to rely on a database of data gathered from real students rather than a learning algorithm. Interaction with the simulated students involves a 2-D animated interface wherein what needs to be said by the teacher to the students is selected from a menu.

Simulated students as a collaborative learner

Vizcaino created a simulated student that can chat with two other students studying computer programming. The real students did not know which one was the simulated student. What the simulated student have to say is taken from a database rather than using natural language processing. They wanted the simulated student to intervene in the discussion to solve the problems of off-topic conversations, students with passive behaviour and problems related to students' learning. (2005)

Simulated students for instructional design

Mertz used a Soar simulated student. Then it is given training in how to assemble a circuit board. This training is iteratively done, and the lesson is refined until the simulated students learn better. Thereby the lesson is made better each time. (1997)

These researches show that the use of simulated students in improving teaching and learning is not in the realm of science fiction. We can expect it to develop even further in the future and probably even to become mainstream.


Gilbert, N., & Troitzsch, K.G. (2005). Simulation for social scientist. (2nd ed.). England: Open University.

Mertz, J.S. (1997). Using a simulated student for instructional design. International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, 8, 116-141 [Electronic version]. Retrieved August 7, 2009, from http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/19/73/84/PDF/mertz97.pdf.

VanLehn, K., Ohlsson, S. and Nason, R. (1994). Applications of simulated students: an exploration. Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, 5(2), 135-175. Retrieved August 8, 2009, from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=2850F00F49F6DCE6F5E8F657D6EAE9C6?doi= .

Vizcaino, A. (2005). A simulated student can improve collaborative learning. International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, 15, 3-40 [Electronic version]. Retrieved August 7, 2009, from http://ihelp.usask.ca/iaied/ijaied/members05/archive/Vol_15/Vizcaino/Vizcaino05.pdf.

Zibit, M., & Gibson, D. (2005). simSchool: The game of teaching. Innovate, 1 (6). Retrieved August 17, 2009, from http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=173.

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