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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

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4.8 rating, based on 30 reviews

Start your review of Computer Simulations

  • 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

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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
    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

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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.
  • 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.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous is taking this course right now.

    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
    Nice course! I have my own NetLogo experience, but it was very interesting to see how Martin Hilbert help us to understand different models from NetLogo library. The course as a whole has a good structure and augmented by models, presentations and videous.
  • Anonymous
    The course was very informative and practical. Writing code in NetLogo was the best part and I would appreciate more of it as we wrote a toy model but didn't get too deep into it. It's a great introductory course in computer simulations.
  • Anonymous
    Overall specialization has been good, this class has been very interesting. Agent Based Modeling is a topic I have wanted to learn more about for a while, this is a great started class.
  • Anonymous
    Very good course, even for peolpe that does not code at all, like me.

    I did not have trouble in coding because of the ease leraning videos and porf. Hilbert tutorial.
  • Anonymous
    fun, interesting, easy-to-understand, practical course on programming and computing social interactions
  • Anonymous
    Thank you! This is one of the most interesting courses I have taken on Coursera. It gives a good introduction to the topic and offers reading material to follow up and study later. Most importantly, in the end, it makes you apply the knowledge with the final assignment. I think it inspired me to study more and go to the next step of playing around with Netlogo and computer simulations. The content of the course has been delivered well. Also, the coding language "Logo" is quite intuitive and easy for people without a background in computer science and coding. Overall, it was a good experience. Best!
  • 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.
  • Profile image for Jesus Maria Godoy Bejarano
    Jesus Maria Godoy Bejarano

    Jesus Maria Godoy Bejarano is taking this course right now.

    Computer simulation is a fantastic course and fulfiled all my expectations. Netlogo was a great choice for this course. I plan to go deeper into that tool to improve my research and teaching tasks in my university because Netlogo allows me to tests some of the hypothesis that I did not explore yet due its complexity. Netlogo and your reflections empower my skills in research. The course includes some exciting thoughts about some methodological issues in the study in social sciences that one generally miss because they are includes in the landscape. Congratulations on your course design, and I am motived to begin the other courses in the specialisation. I enjoyed it all activities.
  • Anonymous
    Very interesting course! I had so much fun learning the lessons. Prof. Hilbert is really funny and he makes the class awesome. The topics are broken down to a language that is easier to grasp and understand. Thank you so much. Really appreciate the efforts poured into this. :-)
  • Anonymous
    Very useful course, and the assignment also encouraged me to learn how to record Webcam & screen content simultaneously for the first time. Has a nice balance between theoretical and practical aspects of agent based modeling.
  • Anonymous
    I enjoyed the course a lot!

    I learned the basics of computer simmulations in a dynamic, clear and fun way. It is motivating to keep on learning the topyc.

    I'd love to have a second part with more advanced tasks
  • Profile image for Gang Li
    Gang Li

    Gang Li completed this course.

    Great teacher, great course,thank you very much! Thanks a lot for teaching us so useful course!Great teacher, great course,thank you very much! Thanks a lot for teaching us so useful course!Great teacher, great course,thank you very much! Thanks a lot for teaching us so useful course!Great teacher, great course,thank you very much! Thanks a lot for teaching us so useful course!Great teacher, great course,thank you very much! Thanks a lot for teaching us so useful course!Great teacher, great course,thank you very much! Thanks a lot for teaching us so useful course!
  • Anonymous
    This course was both a lot of fun as well as very useful. I've coded a lot in Python and R, but Netlogo is really practical and simple. Course structure and prof. great too!
  • Anonymous
    Great course. Very helpful and hands-on. I would certainly suggest this course to everyone, not only people in academia but also people in practice.

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