Engage the User

This is the first of four reflections by Benjamin Carr on principals which allow simulations and visualizations to help us understand complex systems.

Simulations and visualizations are, for a variety of reasons, effective at engaging the user. I find the colors, shapes, and patterns pull my attention in a way that text cannot. Another property which makes these tools engaging is their interactive capacities, as can be seen with this stock and flow diagram. In such cases, the user has the ability to change the values of important variables. The user is positioned as an active component in the production of whatever result the tool generates.

The user is positioned as an active component in the production of whatever result the tool generates.

For the user, there is a curiosity that is generated after selecting a value which makes one pay more attention to the result that is generated. When I use these tools I feel like I am in some way creating or discovering for myself. This is consistent with constructivist pedagogical theories of learning, which argue that the active participation of the user in the process of learning is often a more effective means of understanding and remembering than the passive intake of information1.

Benjamin Carr is doing his undergraduate work in Knowledge Integration at the University of Waterloo. He participated in both the Sudbury and Toronto simulation intensives.


1 Hein, George E. Learning in the Museum. New York City: Routledge, 1998. 17. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

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