Using Computer Simulated Science Laboratories: A Test of Pre-Laboratory Activities with the Learning Error and Formative Feedback Model

  • Author / Creator
    Chu, Man-Wai
  • The use of computer simulated science laboratories (CSSL) to assess science knowledge and skills has become popular in recent years (Bennett, Persky, Weiss, & Jenkins, 2007; PhET, 2014). These digital environments are often superior to face-to-face environments in which traditional science laboratories are usually conducted. Traditional science laboratories have been criticized for providing a recipe of pre-determined linear steps for students to follow. In contrast, CSSLs encourage higher-order ideas such as scientific inquiry by allowing students to explore the laboratory (e.g., trying different procedures and making errors; Ma & Nickerson, 2006; Sahin, 2006). CSSLs have been shown to improve student achievement when used as a supplement to classroom activities (PhET, 2015; Scalise, Timms, Clark, & Moorjani, 2009; Quellmalz, Timms, & Schneider, 2009). This research study adds to this literature by investigating whether two interventions – a pre-laboratory activity and learning error intervention (LEI) – enhance students’ learning and performance on a CSSL designed to measure students’ science knowledge and skills. The use of pre-laboratory activities was selected for this study because many CSSLs tend to omit the use of a pre-laboratory activity, which are often used in traditional laboratories to cognitively prepare students for the experiment (Sahin, 2006; PheT, 2014). An LEI was used to encourage students to attempt multiple procedures while solving one problem during the CSSL; this differs from traditional laboratories which do not allow for much deviation from the linear steps (Bennett et al., 2007; Ma & Nickerson, 2006). These multiple trials permit the exploration of errors, which is an essential part of the learning process because it may inform future runs (Leighton, Chu, & Seitz, 2013). In order to investigate whether these interventions enhanced students’ CSSL performance and associated learning competencies, a quasi-experimental design was used. The results indicated students who were administered the pre-laboratory activity reported lower levels of test anxiety when compared with their peers who did not receive the activity. Furthermore, students who received the LEI scored significantly higher on two components of Problem 3 of a CSSL assessment and on a sub-section of a post-intervention survey measure. These findings are important because they provide evidence that both a pre-laboratory activity and a LEI can be beneficial in improving students’ performance on an CSSL. Knowing the beneficial aspects of these kinds of interventions may help educators better utilize CSSLs in the classroom so that digital learning and associated assessment tools may be maximized.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2017
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Specialization
    • Measurement, Evaluation, and Cognition
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Cutumisu, Maria (Educational Psychology)
    • Volante, Louis (Faculty of Education, Brock University)
    • Cui, Ying (Educational Psychology)
    • Nocente, Norma (Secondary Education)