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University of California, Davis

Computer Simulations

University of California, Davis via Coursera


Big data and artificial intelligence get most of the press about computational social science, but maybe the most complex aspect of it refers to using computational tools to explore and develop social science theory. This course shows how computer simulations are being used to explore the realm of what is theoretically possible. Computer simulations allow us to study why societies are the way they are, and to dream about the world we would like to live in. This can be as intuitive as playing a video game. Much like the well-known video game SimCity is used to build and manage an artificial city, we use agent-based models to grow and study artificial societies. Without hurting anyone in the real world, computer simulations allow us explore how to make the world a better place. We play hands-on with several practical computer simulation models and explore how we can combine hypothetical models with real world data. Finally, you will program a simple artificial society yourself, bottom-up. This will allow you to feel the complexity that arises when designing social systems, while at the same time experiencing the ease with which our new computational tools allow us to pursue such daunting endeavors.


  • Getting Started and Computer Simulations
    • In this module, you will be able to define theoretical computer simulations, specifically agent-based models (ABM). You will be able to recall how and why agent-based models can be useful and you'll be able to examine Schelling's famous segregation model.
  • Artificial Societies: Sugarscape
    • In this module, you will be able to identify how to mix different models to create new and more complex models. You will be able to explore how to create sophisticated versions of artificial societies. You'll also be able to examine an artificial society called Sugarscape.
  • Computer Simulations and Characteristics of ABM
    • In this module, you will be able to discover how one uses computer simulations to solve practical problems. You will be able to discuss agent-based models (ABM) and identify how ABM can be used in social science.
  • Model Thinking and Coding Artificial Societies
    • In this module, you will be able to describe what agent-based models are. You will be able to identify their capabilities and limitations. You will be able to define and use vocabulary and terminology around model thinking. You'll also be able to code using NetLogo and be able to grow your own artificial society.

Taught by

Martin Hilbert


4.8 rating, based on 44 Class Central reviews

4.5 rating at Coursera based on 77 ratings

Start your review of Computer Simulations

  • Anonymous
    was fun working with Netlogo. The programming construct was easy and mostly left to our imagination as to how we can use it.
    The Course itself was well designed, with just enough complexity and lab work + assignment.
    Love the coach, as before he does a fantastic job.
  • Anonymous
    Professor Hilbert is fantastic in making a multidisciplinary approach to computational social science which keeps along technical learning with deep debates in social theory and philosophy of social science.
  • Anonymous
    Very easy to understand and fun course! Looking forward to more educational content from University of California!
  • Anonymous
    I thoroughly enjoyed this course. It is super hands on, explanations of concepts are extremely clear, lectures are both informative and fun, and exercises help to demystify computational social sciences.
  • Anonymous
    Brilliant multi period experimental analysis from UC Davis and NetLogo. From basics to model of a complex adaptive system
  • Anonymous
    The course helps me to understand some basic details and groundings of social science simulation and algorithm logic.
  • Anonymous
    This was the first course that introduced me to Agent-Based modeling. At first, I was intimidated by the complexity of this method; understandably computational models are slowly becoming a norm in university curriculums. Despite of this, this course empowered me to foster functional knowledge and curiosity for computational social methods through concise and clear step-by-step guidance. Notice, computational social modeling MAY seem redundant and very systematic (just like any type of coding), BUT this course really bridge theory-to-practice by providing real-life examples and enough flexibility to get creative.
  • Anonymous
    This course is my favorite Coursera course I have taken so far. Programming my own artificial society was a great way to apply the simulation material learned in the course. I think it is interesting how we can use these societies to study what could possibly happen in our real lives. Building the artificial society is absolutely effective in understanding the effects of disease, resources, and others in today's society. Great course.
  • Profile image for Cici QIU
    Cici QIU
    My experience with this course is wonderful, as with the previous four classes. I think the best teaching is not providing as much as possible, but intrigue students' learning motivations and curiosity. Obviously, this specification made this goal. Good Job, the other Hilbert ! LOL
  • Anonymous
    The professors really did a good job of making the videos interesting. The analogies in the lectures made the lesson more understandable. And in addition, you can take this course without prerequisites. Overall, a good course if you want to gain an overview of computer simulations.
  • Anonymous
    I have thoroughly enjoyed this course. I never knew computer simulation was considered the third branch of science and agent-based modelling can be so much fun. The course materials here are great for a primer to computer simulations and I strongly recommend anyone who is new and wishes to learn computer simulations to take this course. I have benifited much from it and I hope future students feel the same as I do.
  • Anonymous
    This is one of the most interesting courseware I have taken in recent years, in this course you learn not only the technical skills but also the social background.

    The topics that are handled in the classes are very interesting, so you will not get bored.
  • Anonymous
    The pure essence of amazingness. It is definitely useful for my future work.


    -government agent
  • Anonymous
    Excellent Course. All concepts are explained. Sir if possible please try to include sentiment analysis using weka and text analysis using LIWC software.
  • Anonymous
    This has been a fun and informative way to learn about computer simulations. It gives you the basic tools and understanding to create your own simulations.
  • Anonymous
    A great introduction to the concepts of Agent-Based Modeling. The instructor does a very nice job focusing on the key ideas associated with the material.
  • Anonymous
    Interesting course. Learned lot of new perspectives about social science and diversity. NetLogo programming language is friendly and intuitive. Glad that I signed up for this specialization and decided to continue with until this stage. Thanks to all the high energy Prof Martin Hilbert and the rest of UC university system for valuable introduction of computation from a diverse angle (social, psychology, economic, science and technology). Hope to see more of such blended theory and practical learning program from UC system.
  • Anonymous
    Thanks to this course I can understand better how Agent Based Simulations and Modeling can be used in the context of Social Sciences, and how the use of this techniques helps in the development of better results and understanding of human society. The course is a very complete introductory course on the subject, which will get you going if you are interested in doing more on this area. I particularly liked the complementary materials on Social Epidemiology. I highly recomend this course.
  • Anonymous
    I enjoyed this course the least of those that are part of this specialization. The lab was very annoying with more time required to get the technology to work together than actually learning and exploring anything.

    I also don't think a visual presentation is the best for a peer reviewed assignment. I'd rather spend my time actually learning and mastering the content than "producing" multiple segments.
  • Anonymous
    This is a very basic introduction into social sciences and agent-based modelling. As such it was a decent experience, despite the non-existant editing in a few places.

    I would have wished a bit more difficulty in the concluding project, or at least for a follow-up course taking the elements learned onto the next level.

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