Rationale for data simulations with undergraduates
The possibility that students could use the computer to perform conceptually significant experiments in
the life sciences was the motivation for the development of our data simulation programs; its author has
over 25 years of experience teaching biology at the college level. Programs include a screen display of
instructions (with literature references) to the 25 systems simulated on each disk, with suggestions of
possible hypotheses to test. Instructors can modify the text of these instructions (a new feature
requested by a number of instructors). Students obtain data to test hypotheses of their own, or ones
suggested by an instructor. Students can vary the value of independent variables and specify the number
of replicate values to be simulated. Simulated experimental data are displayed on a scatterplot, listed in a
Data Information Window, and can be sent to a printer. These unique college-level programs let students
simulate experimental situations similar to those appearing in the contemporary scientific literature.
Students can perform data analysis (e.g. regression & t-tests) without leaving the program, and simulated
data can also be saved for analysis with other programs. The simulation of experimental data has proven
to be an effective educational device either prior to or after a hands-on lab or field experience. When
students have the opportunity to discover relationships, as compared with being told about them, they
gain an appreciation for the process of science. In addition, it's the kind of learning that stays with
students. And a valuable benefit for instructors: no additional laboratory setup required !!
The program provides descriptions of each system and displays a scatter plot of simulated data as shown
on the screen below for 'Niche shifts in young largemouth bass' from the ECOLOGY: 1995-99 Data
Simulation program. You can simulate more than one variable and display them on the same scatter plot.
In the example below with fish in the diet of young bass, you could also simulate scatter plots of
Chironomids in their diet, or Insect nymphs in their diet; neither of these variables show the trend of
increasing percentage of the diet as is show for Fish in diet.