Over the past few months I have developed an interest in agent-based modelling using tools such as Netlogo, RePast or Swarm. These tools combined with increases in processing power make it incredible easy to get started and soon sucked me in.

Agent-based models are computation models that are used to make predictions about the interactions of agents in a system and how these interactions may affect the system on a whole. Quite often the systems being modelled are ones where simple small interactions on a low level have a huge effect on the overall system at a higher level such as how greenhouse gasses blocking infrared light might have an effect on global temperature (have a play on the model by Lisa Schultz here!)

After playing with these models I got me wondering about the possibilities of modelling the interactions of agents within educational institutions and how we could use these techniques to explain the emergence of behaviour but at the same time I have worried about how we would validate these models without ‘hard data’.

Here at the University of Bolton we have recently switched VLE to Moodle and it appeared to me that what could seem like a simple process of ‘changing the VLE’ was actually made up of very complex communications and interactions between the staff based here. Using this as a starting point I got together with a colleague and started to create a model that explained how we thought the communications within the University might look and how these communications could be disrupted or improved using technology.

At 2011 Cal Conference in Manchester my colleague Mark Johnson presented the model as a way of explaining how we thought technological interventions could be used to change communications and how this might have an effect on the how the institutions works on a whole.

The model showed the different types of communications between certain groups of people and how these communications could change when they people were placed in different social situations or when technological interventions were made.

Agent Based Model Netlogo
Screenshot of Netlogo’s Patch while the model is running

I thought the response from the audience was great, who did not worry about the validity of the model itself but seemed to find the visual representation of how we thought technical intervention may change communication useful. The reaction of the audience at the session made me realise that a powerful aspect of agent-based modelling might simply be the ability to demonstrate what your view on a problem is.

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Sheilamacneill · April 19, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Hi David

Sounds fascinating. Would be really interested in a hearing more detail about how you created the models and how they are being used/received within Bolton – follow up post maybe;-)


Elaine · June 26, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Hi David,

This is new to me, but it looks so interesting. Will check out some more on this.


Hang Xiong · June 15, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Your model is quite interesting. I am writing a NetLogo program on institutional change of land tenure system now. I think your program can be rather helpful. Would you mind to share it with me, please?

Hang Xiong · June 15, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Your model is very interesting.

dms2ect · June 18, 2012 at 11:26 am

Thanks for the interest Hang, This model is on a old laptop now so I will dig it out and get back to you.

Hang Xiong · June 18, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Thank you very much, David. Please send is to my email.

Rethinking a Model | blogotron.co.uk · June 2, 2011 at 10:39 am

[…] I have been playing with agent based models for a while now, one of the first projects that I attempted was to help a while ago I helped Mark create a model to give life to how they saw communications in higher education and how interventions could change these communications. You can see the model on marks blog read more about it at my CETIS Blog. […]

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