Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 10

Running head: A COMPARISON OF VIRTUAL VERSUS TRADITIONAL METHODS

Research Proposal: A Comparison of Virtual Versus Traditional Methods in Science Classes Kevin Wilnechenko UBC, ETEC 500 Submitted to Dr. Stephen Carey

A COMPARISON OF VIRTUAL VERSUS TRADITIONAL METHODS

A Comparison of Virtual Versus Traditional Methods in Science Classes Introduction Physics 12 is one of the more academically challenging courses that students take in high school. Since physics is one of the major streams of science, there is great emphasis placed on the results of examinations. So, how do teachers go about improving exam scores? One of the answers is to use science labs. Labs that engage students and require them to use science process skills can serve as meaningful learning experiences and provide students with a solid foundation for future investigations (Straits & Wilke, 2006). There is a debate as to whether virtual or traditional environments are more effective for science labs. Virtual labs make use of computer simulations that represent the real world with interactive programs. Traditional labs do not use computers, but rather make use of real lab equipment and provide students with physical connections. Regardless of the method used, there is a direct relation to doing labs and achieving better test scores (Finkelstein et al., 2005). Much of the research done on virtual and traditional science labs focuses on university classes. As I am a Physics 12 teacher in a large high school, I have a stake in knowing how each method affects the learning of high school physics students. As such, I am proposing an action research study that two physics teachers at Sardis Secondary School (SSS) in School District 33, Chilliwack, BC will conduct. The physics department at SSS will use the results of this study to help decide which direction we will take in regard to the strategies and methods used in labs. Purpose of Research Proposal Although there has been some research on the differences of traditional and virtual labs in a high school science environment, there has been a limited focus on physics classes. Franklin, Peat, and Lewis (2001) and Cross and Cross (2004) conducted studies that addressed the

A COMPARISON OF VIRTUAL VERSUS TRADITIONAL METHODS

question of virtual versus traditional labs in the field of biology, and determined that traditional dissections result in better learning. These results, however, do not necessarily translate to physics classes. The purpose of this research proposal is to determine which method is more effective in a Physics 12 class. Researchers will collect data that is primarily quantitative in nature and will do so with the use of tests. Data should be quantifiable to compare the learning that happens with these two different methods. There will be a qualitative element as well, in the form of surveys and interviews, which will help determine student-opinion. The study will take the form of an action research, with the primary goal of finding answers for the physics department of SSS. However, a secondary goal is that our findings will be of use to the high school physics community at large. Specifically, this research project will pose the following questions:

1. Do physics labs conducted in a virtual environment produce higher student achievement on exams than do labs of a traditional nature? 2. What are students attitudes towards using computer simulations in place of hands-on lab equipment?

Hypothesis Based on past research and my own limited experience, I hypothesize that high school physics students who perform virtual labs will gain more conceptual awareness and do better on tests than those who do traditional labs; much like the results of a university study by Finkelstein et al. (2005). In addition, I predict that students perceived motivation, engagement, and enjoyment of doing the labs will be higher with the virtual labs. The questions posed in this

A COMPARISON OF VIRTUAL VERSUS TRADITIONAL METHODS

study are not new, so it will be necessary to look at what contemporary literature has to say about learning in traditional and virtual environments. Literature Review The first assignment of this activity involves an extensive literature review of a number of articles between 2001 and 2010, which add to the discussion of traditional versus virtual in science classes. Though the literature review points out evidence to support each viewpoint, much of the thinking in a physics environment is that computer simulations are more effective. Simulations reduce the number of uncontrolled variables, which helps learners understand conceptual information (Podolefsky et al., 2010). This proposal addresses some of the gaps discovered in the literature review in an effort to shed light on new areas. As mentioned earlier, much of the research focuses at the post-secondary level, so this proposal is only concerned with labs in a high school setting. In addition, this research attempts to limit the number of uncontrolled variables, something that some of the studies discussed in the literature review did not do well. Methodology This action research study involves a timeline of one full school year and takes on a quasi-experimental design. It will involve four sections of a Physics 12 course, where two sections will run in the first semester of the year and the other two in the second semester. In each semester, one of the sections will conduct a traditional lab and the other, a virtual lab. The subject area will come from the Physics 12 chapter on electrical circuits. The traditional lab will be hands-on and will require that students physically use lab equipment like alligator clips, switches, and bulbs. The virtual lab will use computers equipped with PhETs Circuit Construction Kit (CCK), which is a free simulation, accessible by any computer running java or

A COMPARISON OF VIRTUAL VERSUS TRADITIONAL METHODS

flash. With the CCK, students will simulate actual circuits by hooking up virtual lab equipment. Sample The study will involve around 120 Physics 12 students and the researchers will place them in classes using a purposive sampling method. The researchers will evenly distribute students based on their academic ability, and this data will come from students Physics 11 final marks. Unlike the 2004 study conducted by Cross and Cross, this study will have two teachers, who will each teach one traditional and one virtual block. Having two teachers doing one of each method will decrease the chance of skewed results, should one teacher have a bias toward one of the methods. The teachers will tell the students about the research and ask them to fill in consent forms at the beginning of the study. Only students who agree to participate in the study will have their data included. Lab Design Teachers will show each group a short demonstration of how to make circuits in the same way as the method used for that class. The teachers will provide both groups with similar instructions and procedures and these groups will conduct their labs in much the same way as each other; they will construct circuits, observe bulb brightness, as well as measure voltage, current and resistance. They will put power sources in series and in parallel and calculate data before collecting data experimentally. Students will show all work on lab handouts, organized as a fill-in-the-blank sheet to help guide the students through the labs efficiently. The only difference will be the real equipment used in the traditional class and the CCK simulation used in the virtual class.

A COMPARISON OF VIRTUAL VERSUS TRADITIONAL METHODS

Quantitative Data The students from both groups will fill out the same pre-lab questionnaire to be graded. These marks will serve as a basis for pre-existing knowledge, something that Finkelstein et al. (2005) did not do in their study. The pre-lab questions will be conceptual in nature. Upon completion of the labs, students will give immediate feedback by answering questions on a postlab test. These questions will be modeled after provincial exam questions and will be identical for both classes. At the end of the course, the students will provide additional quantitative data by writing a final exam prepared by the two teachers. Comparing the results of the final exams circuit portion with the post-lab test written immediately after the labs will allow the teachers to measure retention. Qualitative Data The teachers will acquire qualitative data through identical surveys that each group will fill out. These surveys will inquire about students perceptions about their labs. There will be 10 questions about student enjoyment and lab effectiveness, such as, How engaged you were in this lab? Students will answer on an ascending scale of one to five. The teachers will randomly select five students from each section to participate in a 15-minute interview that will allow the students to elaborate on the survey questions and provide additional feedback. These interviews will occur before students receive the results of the pre- and post-lab tests, so as not to influence their thinking regarding the method in which they participated. Data Analysis The researchers will organize quantitative data gathered from test results and place them into tables. They will then analyze the information and create bar graphs that will clearly show any differences in the two approaches. The researchers will compare students pre- and post-lab

A COMPARISON OF VIRTUAL VERSUS TRADITIONAL METHODS

test scores to see if there was any evidence of learning, and to what degree. They will also organize the qualitative data in charts and summarized in a bar graph. The results of both the quantitative and qualitative data will be included in a research report that will formally discuss any findings. Most of the emphasis will be on the quantitative data, but the qualitative data will be useful in the discussion of student-motivation and deepen explanation of the numerical data (Gay et al., 2009). Observations Each teacher will record impressions of student engagement during the labs. These notes will serve as an added qualitative measure, useful in triangulation of the data. The teachers will each use identical checklists for their observations, to reduce the demand on the teachers time. This checklist will look for various attitudes and levels of involvement. Significance and Possible Implications The action research that I have proposed focuses on the high school physics environment, which is uniquely different from other high school science classes and other university physics classes. Though the findings of this study may not be generalizable, if research shows that virtual physics labs are more effective than the traditional variety at the high school level, then physics teachers may want to consider implementing simulations in their classes. However, before complete acceptance of the benefit of simulations occurs, I suggest that further verification is necessary. Other researchers should conduct a similar study with a larger sample; one that takes place in other regions of the province; in other schools with different demographics. Positive results for computer simulations will also require that the physics teachers and general science teachers at SSS, who teach physics for part of their course, receive training on

A COMPARISON OF VIRTUAL VERSUS TRADITIONAL METHODS

how to use simulations effectively. Some teachers, who wish to learn how to facilitate computer simulations, will require appropriate professional development. SSS will have to make certain that the computer labs are capable of supporting virtual labs. If our findings raise some valid points, and other schools take interest in virtual labs as well, they will need to outfit their computers with the necessary equipment and software to run computer simulations effectively. These schools will also need to ensure that enough computer stations are functional and error free. This would no doubt have an impact on how funding is spent. Conclusion As science teachers strive to improve student performance, it is important to conduct reliable research studies that are as controlled and verifiable as the actual experiments done in science classes. This action research proposal seeks to identify whether virtual methods of experimentation in a Physics 12 class are more effective than traditional methods, and to do so in a way that limits the number of uncontrolled variables. With much of the literature discussing the positive results of using computer simulations in university physics classes, it seems to reason that a study like the one outlined here would provide useful information for the physics department of SSS. It would also be encouraging if the findings of this study were to become of use to other departments within SSS or even to other schools.

A COMPARISON OF VIRTUAL VERSUS TRADITIONAL METHODS

References Baser, M. (2006). Promoting conceptual change through active learning using open source software for physics simulations. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 22(3), 336-354. Chandra, V., & Lloyd, M. (2008). The methodological nettle: ICT and student achievement. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(6), 1087-1098. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00790.x Cross, T. R. & Cross, V. E. (2004). Scalpel or mouse ? A statistical comparison of real & virtual frog dissections. American Biology Teacher, 66(6), 408. doi:10.1662/0002-7685(2004)066[0409:SOMASC]2.0.CO;2 Deng, H. & Zhang, S. (2007). What is the Effectiveness of a Multimedia Classroom? International Journal of Instructional Media, 34(3), 311-322. Finkelstein, N. D., Adams, W. K., Keller, C. J., Kohl, P. B., Perkins, K. K., Podolefsky, N. S., & Reid, S. (2005). When learning about the real world is better done virtually. doi:10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.1.010103 Franklin, S., Peat, M., & Lewis, A. (2001). Virtual versus traditional dissections in enhancing learning. Journal of Biological Education, 36(3), 124-129.

A COMPARISON OF VIRTUAL VERSUS TRADITIONAL METHODS


10

Gay, L.R., Mills, G.E., & Airasian, P.W. (2009). Educational research: Competencies for analysis and application (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Podolefsky, N. S., Perkins, K. K., & Adams, W. K. (2010). Factors promoting engaged exploration with computer simulations. Phys. Rev. ST Physics. Educ. Research, 6 doi:10.1103/PhysRevSTPER.6.020117 Straits, W.J., & Wilke R.R. (2006). Interactive demonstrations: Examples from biology lectures. Journal of College Science Teaching, 35(4), 58-59.