Interdisciplinary Computational Modeling Workshop Outcomes

Participant Plans

Greg Marfleet, Political Science: My projected computational modeling project coincides with my fall and winter leave activities for next year. I've been working on a computational model of small group decision processes (in a foreign policy setting) to append to my dissertation work in risk-taking and social decision processes. As part of this project I'll be exploring the RePast agent simulation toolkit which is a set of extensions and modules for JAVA that facilitate the construction of agent-based models. While this project is directly related to my research, the possible in-class uses of this tool are limited sine the software is too advanced for all but students with extensive JAVA backgrounds.

I will continue to explore the NetLogo software and other suitable teaching tools and plan to offer my Complexity of Politics (Posc 330) class again the the Fall of 2007. Since the Workshop I have downloaded and started to explore the free version Vensim and will incorporate that systemic modeling tool as a compliment to the agent-based netlogo tools in the next edition of Posc 330. Also, for class purposes, I intend to explore a project called "Mapping the Global Future" created by the National Intelligence Council of the U.S. government. As part of this project a software tool called 'IFs' was developed by Barry Hughes at the University of Denver. The IFs software is a freely available (and also Web-based) forecasting tool for major global trends in the areas of the environment, demographic and economics. It allows students to access 40 years of historical data on almost 200 countries and the project "possible future worlds" by manipulating parameters associated with well known policy options (Davos, Kyoto etc) as well as their own scenarios. It is my intention to try to offer a first-year seminar class "Exploring Global Futures" utilizing this modeling software as the central focus. The course would combine quantitative literacy and systemic modeling exercises during the exploration of contemporary issues in global politics.

Laura Chihara, Mathematics and Computer Science and Debby Walser-Kuntz, Biology: Next winter, Debby will be teaching an immunology course, and Laura will be teaching a differential equations course. In the DE course, we will focus on applications such as the Volterra-Lotka predator-prey models or lead-in-body models. Debby is interested in modeling epidemics, and Laura has access to some epidemic models which should be accessible to DE students.

We plan to have a joint session where we break students into groups (2 from immunology, 2 from DE). The immunology students will give the DE students a lesson in the biological aspects of epidemics. The DE students will show the immunology students graphical analysis of the epidemics (using Mathematica). The immunology students might suggest making changes to various parameters, then the DE students would encode this and run Mathematica to see the affects.

Debby Walser-Kuntz, Biology; Laura Chihara, Mathematics and Computer Science; and Susan Singer, Biology: Our plan is to develop a Hardy-Weinberg model that will be useful in both math and introductory biology classes. Students will be able to manipulate different factors that affect evolution in a population that is not in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium.

Arjendu Pattanayak, Physics and Astronomy; Bill Titus, Physics and Astronomy; and Susan Singer, Biology: We are developing an interdisciplinary computational biology course to be offered for the first time in spring term 2007. This course will expose students with an introductory science background to the complexity and interdisciplinary natures of real-world science problems. It will also show them, by example, the value of intelligent modeling and introduce them to how modeling works. The students will be exposed to particular tools, including computational packages, and will spend the second half of the course applying these techniques working one particular project in small interdisciplinary teams. No prior knowledge of computation and only some calculus background are assumed. Prerequisites: Math 121 and at least one introductory science course with a lab or by permission of instructor.

Sam Patterson, Mathematics: Sam will be exploring some modeling in the environmental area with Will Hollingsworth in Chemistry. He also is exploring a collaboration with Mary Savina in Geology on a watershed and basin throughput model.

Cathy Manduca, SERC; Bill Titus, Physics and Astronomy; Trish Ferrett, Chemistry; and Greg Marfleet, Political Science: This group is interested in helping students take a "critical stance" on computational modeling. The problem here is a pedagogical one. As we teach with modeling activities in our courses, we would like to explore together how well students learn to question the assumptions and limits of models, their applicability to particular problems, the various roles they play in inquiry, etc. We decided to develop a shared assessment (probably a survey) that we could use in all our classes around this theme of critical thinking in relation to computational modeling.

Will Hollingsworth, Chemistry: Attending this workshop was particularly timely and useful in helping to refine some modeling I will be doing this summer for HHMI. I am planning to develop a series of kinetic models that may prove useful in introductory chemistry and environmental studies contexts for examining how relatively simple systems change in time. Clearly the NCSI web resources will prove useful. Although I was planning to use Stella software, the exposure during the workshop to Vensim has convinced me to explore either dual platform development or even place the emphasis on Vensim alone. I will also be working with Sam Patterson, Mathematics to understand some of the key mathematical aspects in order to develop a pedagogy that will emphasize the most dynamic aspects of system propagation.

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