Advantages of a Web-based Interactive Landform Simulation Model of Grand Canyon (WILSIM-GC) in enhancing studentsメ learning

Project No.
PI Name
Wei Luo
Northern Illinois University


Abstract 1

Advantages of a Web-based Interactive Landform Simulation Model of Grand Canyon (WILSIM-GC) in enhancing studentsメ learning

Presentation Type
Wei Luo, Northern Illinois University Jon Pelletier, University of Arizona Kirk Duffin, Northern Illinois University Carol Ormand, Carleton College Wei-chen Hung, Northern Illinois University David Shernoff, Rutgers University Xiaoming Zhai, College of Lake County Ellen Iverson, Carleton College Aaron Shelhamer, Northern Illinois University Kyle Whalley, Northern Illinois University Andrew Darling, Arizona State University


Despite the perceived effectiveness of computer simulation in teaching and learning, very few studies have conducted treatment and control experiments to quantitatively compare the effect of simulations on studentsメ learning versus that of more traditional teaching methods in geoscience. This project will fill that gap. The geosciece educators and geoscience education researchers will benefit from this project.


The overarching goal of the project is to develop an effective and easy to access tool for teaching students landform evolution. The model is developed as an Java applet so that anyone from anywhere with Internet connection can use it. Classroom control and treatment experiments have been conducted to test its effectiveness.


Since the Fall 2014 semester, students in an introductory geography course have participated in an experiment that tests the effectiveness of WILSIM-GC versus the traditional, paper-based approach in teaching students the concepts of landform evolution. After completing a pre-lab exercise and a pre-test, students were separated into two groups. One group completed the WILSIM-GC simulation exercise, while the other completed the paper-based exercise, and afterwards both groups completed the post-test.


Results show that while both the interactive simulation and traditional paper-based approaches appeared to be effective in helping students learn landform evolution processes, there are several advantages and affordances of the simulation approach. The improvement effect from pre- to post-test scores was large for the treatment group, but small to moderate for the control group. In addition, for those questions requiring higher-level thinking, the percentage of students answering correctly was higher in the treatment group than in the control group. Furthermore, responses to the attitudinal survey indicate that students generally favor the interactive simulation approach.

Broader Impacts

These advantages can be leveraged and integrated with traditional methods in designing better curricular materials, including materials for online or hybrid courses and flipped classrooms. The project is still on-going. A workshop to local community colleges has been conducted. More dissemination efforts are forth coming (e.g., advertisement through emails, presentations and workshops at professional conferences, and a user community listserv).

Unexpected Challenges

1. Java technology: the new changes force us to adapt. E.g., Java requires a signed digital certificate for the applet to run. There is a workaround but it is too cumbersome. We managed to get our University IT to purchase the certificate for us, which has to be renewed annually. 2. Computation speed: we spend a lot of time to optimize the code so that the simulation can be completed within 1 minute. We working on a higher resolution version which will take longer but with better result. 3. Curricula development and test in classroom: this is a trial and error process and got some good result after several rounds of trials.


Luo, Wei, Jon Pelletier, Kirk Duffin, Carol Ormand, Wei-Chen Hung, David J.
Shernoff, Xiaoming Zhai, Ellen Iverson, Kyle Whalley, Courtney Gallaher, and
Walter Furness. モAdvantages of Computer Simulation in Enhancing Studentsメ
Learning about Landform Evolution: A Case Study Using the Grand Canyon.ヤ
Revision submitted to the Journal of Geoscience Education, under review.

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