Avida-ED: a tool for artificial life in the classroom
Organizers: Michael Wiser, Robbert Penock
One of the most challenging issues in science education is for students to engage in authentic science practice, rather than just learning a list of facts that others have discovered. Though science is predicated on evidence rather than authority, students are often expected to simply accept what their book or teacher says. Even instructors interested in having students learn real scientific practices face stumbling blocks: many experiments are very time-intensive, or require specialized equipment, or are impractical in a classroom setting. One way to overcome these limitations is to turn to artificial life.
To science and engineering students about the nature and practice of science using evolutionary biology as an exemplary, we have developed an educational version of the digital software evolution platform, Avida. Avida-ED (2017’s ISAL Education Award winner) runs the same basic code of Avida, but in a simplified format with a GUI; the current version even runs in a browser, making it accessible across platforms and devices. Users can control settings such as the size of the world, the mutation rate, and which bitwise logic tasks are rewarded. They can save either individuals or the entire population in a virtual freezer, ready to be analyzed or subjected to different environmental conditions. In this tutorial, we will teach participants both how the program can be used and why it might be used in an educational setting. We will also distribute copies of a laboratory manual we’ve developed along with the software, containing a set of lesson plans designed for students to collect meaningful data that addresses common misconceptions about evolution.