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The C5 Simulation Architecture

The fundamental idea behind the C5 Simulation Architecture is to create an unobtrusive Information Technology augmented learning environment that supports simulations that are compact, connected, continuous, customizable, and collective in order to enable new kinds of learning activities based on participatory simulations.

Simulation clients and a simulation server enable connected learning activities. On individual handhelds, students run simulations, which can access and process information wirelessly from the Web. Simulation clients deliver information to the simulation server, which gathers and analyzes aggregate data and presents it to the entire class to stimulate group discussions.

C5 Design Principles

The C5 Simulation Architecture uniquely combines the following five principles:

1) Compact: Simulations will be compact along a number of dimensions. They will be small in terms of memory footprint to fit onto small computing devices with little memory such as Pocket PCs, next generation calculators and even cell phones. Compact software is also essential for classroom management, since in many cases simulations need to be downloaded through a network into a device. This can be an especially serious issue in a large classroom, with many students using the network simultaneously. Since handheld devices are compact in terms of physical size, simulations need to be tailored to work with small display sizes and with pen or thumb keyboard based input. The compact size of the device should lead to class room organizations that having more in common with the current use of graphing calculators than the use of desktop computers, avoiding the forces that typically lead classes to a computer lab environment. Additionally, these devices can easily be transported and used in different places to gather information.

2) Connected: A simulation does not need to be limited to a closed world where students manually feed every bit of information into the simulation. The Web features an immense amount of live (dynamically updated) information relevant to simulations. C5 lets students turn existing Web pages containing numerical information (e.g., the current weather information including temperature and wind speed) into sources of live information that are wirelessly connected to their simulation and feed new information in real time.

3) Continuous: Simulations that run in real time or are connected to real world events may run in a continuous mode. In contrast to most educational simulations used today, a continuous simulation may run for extended periods of time— possibly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Traditional simulation architectures running on traditional hardware do not handle this type of simulation well. Laptops, for instance, will quickly run through batteries if they are not plugged in. Worse, transporting a laptop while running a simulation may cause a problem when sensitive hard drives are involved. C5 can be integrated with the power management of Pocket PCs (and cell phones) to keep a simulation responsive to essential events. Power management features of laptops are typically too limited allowing user only to save battery time by putting machines into some kind of sleep mode.

4) Customizable: While small displays with pen-based input will limit complex end-user authoring schemes, next-generation handhelds are sufficient for simple end-user user programming that is not used to create new simulations from scratch but is used to customize existing simulations.

5) Collective: Particularly complex simulations can unfold on two levels. For instance, a social simulation of one household could take place on one handheld controlled by one user. A collective simulation taking place on a server could simulate a small city aggregating the behaviors of the individual households.

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