Northwestern's Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling (CCL) is dedicated to the creative use of technology to deepen learning.
The CCL is a research group headed by Prof. Uri Wilensky. It was founded in 1995 at Tufts University and relocated to Northwestern University in 2000. The center includes staff and students at Northwestern working together and in association with researchers here and at other universities. The group includes educational researchers, curriculum developers, software engineers, and model builders. The center is funded by Northwestern, the National Science Foundation, and a few commercial sponsors.
In support of its research mission, we at the CCL also develop tools and curricula for use in both classrooms and informal learning settings.
Tools developed at the CCL have been used with a wide range of learners, ranging from young children to frontier level researchers in universities, businesses, and laboratories. Our technologies enable learners to make deep connections between what they are learning and their personal experience of the world.
Recently, the CCL has been primarily engaged with developing computer-based modeling and simulation packages and associated materials. These packages enable learners to explore, construct, and revise models across a wide variety of natural and social domains.
The NetLogo environment, for example, enables learners to give simple rules to individual "agents" in a simulation and observe the collective result of all the agents' behavior. Using the NetLogo language, students and researchers have constructed large numbers of models of complex phenomena in the natural and social worlds. The Models Library that comes with NetLogo covers phenomena in biology, chemistry, physics, earth science economics, history, sociology, business, medicine and a variety of other domains. These models can be explored and revised as part of model-based inquiry in middle, secondary and undergraduate classrooms as well as serving as the basis for research in more advanced settings.
We have also developed technologies that support "Participatory Simulations". The HubNet technology built into NetLogo enables a network of learners to collaboratively explore and control a simulation. Students engaged in such a participatory simulation act out the roles of individual elements of a system while observing how the behavior of the system as a whole can emerge from these individual behaviors. The emergent behavior of the system and its relation to individual participant actions and strategies can then become the object of collective experimentation, discussion, and analysis.
Such new technologies enable learners to have experiences at both the micro- level and at the macro- level. This is very difficult to achieve without such technologies. More importantly, through active exploration, construction and discussion, students can connect their new experiences with their experience of the world, making their new knowledge useful to them in making sense of a complex world.
The CCL offers support to teachers and organizations that use our tools and/or materials. We have frequently co-developed materials and curricula with teachers to fit their particular settings and we periodically offer workshops for teachers.