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Assessing the Effectiveness of a Computer Simulation in Introductory Undergraduate Environments

November 1, 2006

We present studies documenting the effectiveness of using a computer simulation, specifically the Circuit Construction Kit (CCK) developed as part of the Physics Education Technology Project (PhET) [1, 2], in two environments: an interactive college lecture and an inquiry-based laboratory. In the first study conducted in lecture, we compared students viewing CCK to viewing a traditional demonstration during Peer Instruction [3]. Students viewing CCK had a 47% larger relative gain (11% absolute gain) on measures of conceptual understanding compared to traditional demonstrations. These results led us to study the impact of the simulation's explicit representation for visualizing current flow in a laboratory environment, where we removed this feature for a subset of students. Students using CCK with or without the explicit visualization of current performed similarly to each other on common exam questions. Although the majority of students in both groups favored the use of CCK over real circuit equipment, the students who used CCK without the explicit current model favored the simulation more than the other group

Assessing The Effectiveness Of A Computer Simulation In Conjunction With Tutorials In Introductory Physics In Undergraduate Physics Recitations

November 24, 2005

We present two studies documenting the effectiveness of the use of a computer simulation with Tutorials in Introductory Physics1 in a transformed college physics course.2 An interactive computer simulation, entitled the Circuit Construction Kit (CCK),3,4 was introduced to investigate its possible impact on students' conceptual understanding. The first study compared students using either CCK or real laboratory equipment to complete two Tutorials on DC circuits. The second study investigated the impact of the simulation's explicit representation for visualizing current flow by removing this feature for a subset of students. In the first study, students using CCK with Tutorials performed slightly better on measures of conceptual understanding compared to real equipment, as measured by exam performance soon after the intervention. In the second study, students using CCK with and without the explicit visualization of current performed similarly to students using real equipment, though on some specific questions we note significant variation in student performance. We discuss the implications of adding (or removing) such representations within computer simulations.

When learning about the real world is better done virtually: A study of substituting computer simulations for laboratory equipment

October 6, 2005

This paper examines the effects of substituting a computer simulation for real laboratory equipment in the second semester of a large-scale introductory physics course. The direct current circuit laboratory was modified to compare the effects of using computer simulations with the effects of using real light bulbs, meters, and wires. Two groups of students, those who used real equipment and those who used a computer simulation that explicitly modeled electron flow, were compared in terms of their mastery of physics concepts and skills with real equipment. Students who used the simulated equipment outperformed their counterparts both on a conceptual survey of the domain and in the coordinated tasks of assembling a real circuit and describing how it worked.