How can we cope with the complexity of the environment? A "Learning by modelling" approach using qualitative reasoning for developing causal models and simulations with focus on Sustainable River Catchment Management

M. Poppe, A. Zitek, P. Salles, B. Bredeweg, S. Muhar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademic


The education system needs strategies to attract future scientists andpractitioners. There is an alarming decline in the number of studentschoosing science subjects. Reasons for this include the perceivedcomplexity and the lack of effective cognitive tools that enablelearners to acquire the expertise in a way that fits its qualitativenature. The DynaLearn project utilises a "Learning by modelling"approach to deliver an individualised and engaging cognitive tool foracquiring conceptual knowledge. The modelling approach is based onqualitative reasoning, a research area within artificial intelligence,and allows for capturing and simulating qualitative systems knowledge.Educational activities within the DynaLearn software address topics atdifferent levels of complexity, depending on the educational goals andsettings. DynaLearn uses virtual characters in the learning environmentas agents for engaging and motivating the students during theirmodelling exercise. The DynaLearn software represents an interactivelearning environment in which learners are in control of their learningactivities. The software is able to coach them individually based ontheir current progress, their knowledge needs and learning goals. Withinthe project 70 expert models on different environmental issues coveringseven core topics (Earth Systems and Resources, The Living World, Humanpopulation, Land and Water Use, Energy Resources and Consumption,Pollution, and Global Changes) will be delivered. In the context of thecore topic "Land and Water Use" the Institute of Hydrobiology andAquatic Ecosystem Management has developed a model on Sustainable RiverCatchment Management. River systems with their catchments have beentremendously altered due to human pressures with serious consequencesfor the ecological integrity of riverine landscapes. The operation ofhydropower plants, the implementation of flood protection measures, theregulation of flow and sediment regime and intensive land use in thecatchments have created ecological problems. A sustainable,catchment-wide management of riverine landscapes is needed and stated bywater right acts, e.g. the European Water Framework and FloodsDirective. This interdisciplinary approach needs the integration ofnatural riverine processes, flood protection, resource management,landscape planning, and social and political aspects to achieve asustainable development. Therefore the model shows the effects ofdifferent management strategies concerning flood protection, restorationmeasures and land use. The model illustrates the wide range of ecosystemservices of riverine landscapes that contribute to human well-being suchas water supply, hydropower generation, flood regulation, andrecreational opportunities. The effects of different land use strategiesin the catchment are highlighted by means of theDriver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) framework. The model isused to support activities of students at the University as well as atHigh School within the DynaLearn Software to promote scientific culturein the secondary education system. Model fragments allow learners tore-use parts of the existing model at different levels of complexity.But learners can also construct their own conceptual system knowledge,either individually or in a collaborative setting, and using the modelas a reference for comparisons of their own understanding. Of specialinterest for the DynaLearn project is the intended development ofinterdisciplinary and social skills like cooperative working,cross-linked thinking, problem solving, decision-making, and theidentification of the conflicts between environment, economy,legislation, science, technology, and society. A comprehensiveevaluation of the DynaLearn software is part of the project. To beeffective, science education should focus on understanding scientificconcepts and on application of scientific knowledge to everyday life.Conceptual knowledge of systems behaviour is crucial for society tounderstand and successfully interact with its environment. The transferof environmental-scientific knowledge by means of the DynaLearn softwareto wide parts of the society can be regarded as an importantcontribution to that, and contributes to foster a life-long learningprocess.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGeophysical Research Abstracts
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2010
Externally publishedYes


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