Friday, October 16, 2015

Writing Simulations in Immersive E-Learning Environments: Revisiting the Manhattan Project Scenario-Part I

In writing effective simulations, it is important to tell a story that the learner feels that he or she has an effective role in. The decisions they make determines how the story unfolds. Their decisions are guided by a task in which they must rely on the talents or skillsets that each other bring to the defined task. It is through collaboration with each other that they are able to meet and overcome challenges along the way and also deal with unexpected variables that arise through the interjection of  unexpected factors by the instructor or mentor during the run of the simulation. At the very heart of simulations in an online environment is a very important concept that every student of world history understands, that being the concept of "Cause and Effect".

The Importance of Cause and Effect in the Development of Scenarios and Branching Scenarios

As we consider world history, the one constant construct is that all events in the history of the world are linked through the relationship of cause and effect. Some of the understandings that we can grasp about this relationship are:

  • One event can produce a ripple effect leading to multiple events. If we drop a stone in a still pool of water, the energy becomes visible in the ripples that move out from that one event and they impact on any objects on that pond.
  • Objects in that pond may respond to the impact of this event in a number of ways. If the objects are of great substance, they absorb the energy but nothing changes. An example of such objects are the monolithic institutions in our societies such as education. Education as an institution has withstood the advance of various movements for educational change over the last two hundred years but still maintains its status quo.
  • Objects in that pond may also respond by themselves becoming causal events moving out in a cascading effect to affect other objects. This cascading effect is what happens in simulations that use real world scenarios. The difference is that the events are represented by decisions that are made and the intelligent agents, the learners, use the feedback that they receive to exercise control over these cascading sequences.
  • The nature of the feedback received by the intelligent agents in an immersive E-Learning environment where virtual and augmented technology is used can come from a number of technological sensors if available or simply from the natural senses.
A necessary question is:

"What can students learn when this cause-effect relationship is properly integrated into the fabric of a real world scenario?"

To address this question, we return to a scenario that I wrote.

The Manhattan Project Scenario

Background: The time period is 1942 during World War II. Multinational physicists have been recruited to take part in a secret weapons project called the Manhattan Project. The group is spearheaded by Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and includes other notable scientists as Dr. Albert Einstein, Dr. Enrico Fermi, and Neil Bohrs who laid the foundation for Quantum theory. The military adviser to the project was General Leslie R. Groves. The goal is to develop the first atomic bomb by collaborating with others who have different skillsets in your group before the Nazis who also have an atomic weapon program, complete the same goal.

Building the Immersive Environment:  The environment that learners enter into to do the work is an updated laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico, U.S.A. The learners enter in the role of one of the key scientists involved except for the role of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer which is assumed by the educator. An updated virtual laboratory may look like the following:

Updated Version of Los Alamos Laboratory

A new virtual technology, titled "Cave2", could also be considered as an immersive environment that would take a blended E-Learning approach since the use of avatars would not be necessary.


Next....Roles, interjected variables and adaptive, agile learning objectives

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