Embodied perspective taking in learning about complex systems

Firat Soylu, Nathan Holbert, Corey Brady, Uri Wilensky

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


In this paper we present an approach to learning design that leverages perspective taking to help students learn about complex systems. We define perspective taking as projecting one's identity onto external entities (both animate and inanimate) to predict and anticipate events based on ecological cues; to automatically sense the affordances of objects in the environment and take advantage of these affordances; and to understand the mental states of other individuals, an ability crucial for socialization and communication. We introduce one key construct, "phenomenological connectors," which are essentially activities that encourage embodied perspective taking across micro and macro levels of a system. Phenomenological connectors enable learners to step inside a system at various levels, thereby having first-person experiences of multiple agents and components, as they attempt to make sense of that system. We consider agent-based modeling activities as exemplars of this design approach. We argue that agent-based models (ABMs) present unique perspective taking challenges and learning opportunities, to learners. Informed by the learning design approach proposed, we present a curricular agent-based modeling unit on Particulate Nature of Matter (PNoM) and present data from the implementation of this unit in two 10th grade science classes. The discussion of data focuses on how students make sense of their firsthand experiences in a diffusion of odor experiment, where students collectively act as sensors to track the diffusion of odor, by building and reasoning with agent-based models, and taking perspectives of different agent- and aggregate-level elements of the system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-303
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Interactive Learning Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2017


  • Agent-based modeling
  • Complex systems
  • Embodied cognition
  • Particulate nature of matter
  • Perspective taking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications


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