The notion of complex systems is central to many of today’s most pressing societal challenges, from tackling climate change to developing new pharmaceutical drugs to understanding the spread of diseases. Yet these complex systems are often hard to understand in that they are difficult for teachers to represent and for learners to access and explore.
To address this challenge, the MIT STEP Lab has developed a suite of mobile-device enabled activities called pSims, short for participatory simulations. These pSims leverage mobile devices (e.g., smartphones) to enable participants to engage in active, inquiry-based learning through their interactions with the simulation, and coordination and discussion with one another. Using simple interfaces and player actions, the gameplay experience is relatively straightforward for individual players.
This game challenges players to explore the spread of a disease using their mobile devices, scientific inquiry, and a playful process of experimentation. The activity starts with players out of their seats and walking around to “meet” as many other players as possible, both by meeting face-to-face and by scanning the QR codes on each other’s devices. The rest of the activity unfolds like a mystery: some players become sick, and then everyone starts asking questions. What happened? How did I get sick? Why didn’t you get sick?
Based off a well-known economic problem, this game is centered around the cooperation, competition and management of shared resources. The game challenges players to be “successful fishers”. Players do this by buying boats and going “fishing” in each round. There are a finite number of fishing spots around the room, and (as it turns out) a limited amount of fish. Players must figure out how to manage the shared resource and define what it means to be successful.
While these games were built to play synchronously in a classroom, there are ways that they could be adapted to use synchronously online. The key with both of them is that you scan QR codes (either on other player's phones in Virus or on paper in Tragedy of the Commons). Students could hold their phones up to the screen in a zoom classroom for scanning in Virus, and for Tragedy of the Commons, you could either send PDFs of the station QR codes to students in advance or show them on the screen in a live session. We welcome feedback on how this works.
Internet Access; Smartphone/Tablet (iOS or Android)