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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

Towards characterizing the relationship between students' interest in and their beliefs about physics

December 2, 2005

We examine the relationships between students' self-reported interest and their responses to a physics beliefs survey. Results from the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS v3), collected in a large calculusbased introductory mechanics course (N=391), were used to characterize students' beliefs about physics and learning physics at the beginning and end of the semester. Additionally students were asked at the end of the semester to rate their interest in physics, how it has changed, and why. We find a correlation between surveyed beliefs and self-rated interest (R=0.65). At the end of the term, students with more expert-like beliefs as measured by the 'Overall' CLASS score also rate themselves as more interested in physics. An analysis of students' reasons for why their interest changed showed that a sizable fraction of students cited reasons tied to beliefs about physics or learning physics as probed by the CLASS survey. The leading reason for increased interest was the connection between physics and the real world.

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.

A New Instrument For Measuring Student Beliefs About Physics and Learning Physics: The Colorado Learning Attitudes About Science Survey

October 4, 2005

The Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS) is a new instrument designed to measure student beliefs about physics and about learning physics. This instrument extends previous work by probing additional aspects of student beliefs and by using wording suitable for students in a wide variety of physics courses. The CLASS has been validated using interviews, reliability studies, and extensive statistical analyses of responses from over 5000 students. In addition, a new methodology for determining useful and statistically robust categories of student beliefs has been developed. This paper serves as the foundation for an extensive study of how student beliefs impact and are impacted by their educational experiences. For example, this survey measures: that most teaching practices cause substantial drops in student scores; that a student's likelihood of becoming a physics major correlates with their 'Personal Interest' score; and that, for a majority of student populations, women's scores in some categories, including 'Personal Interest' and 'Real World Connections', are significantly different than men's scores.

Correlating Student Beliefs With Student Learning Using The Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey

May 11, 2005

A number of instruments have been designed to probe the variety of attitudes, beliefs, expectations, and epistemological frames taught in our introductory physics courses. Using a newly developed instrument -- the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS)[1] -- we examine the relationship between students' beliefs about physics and other educational outcomes, such as conceptual learning and student retention. We report results from surveys of over 750 students in a variety of courses, including several courses modified to promote favorable beliefs about physics. We find positive correlations between particular student beliefs and conceptual learning gains, and between student retention and favorable beliefs in select categories. We also note the influence of teaching practices on student beliefs.

The Design and Validation of the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey

May 10, 2005

The Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS) is a new instrument designed to measure various facets of student attitudes and beliefs about learning physics. This instrument extends previous work by probing additional facets of student attitudes and beliefs. It has been written to be suitably worded for students in a variety of different courses. This paper introduces the CLASS and its design and validation studies, which include analyzing results from over 2400 students, interviews and factor analyses. Methodology used to determine categories and how to analyze the robustness of categories for probing various facets of student learning are also described. This paper serves as the foundation for the results and conclusions from the analysis of our survey data

Can Computer Simulations Replace Real Equipment in Undergraduate Laboratories?

July 13, 2004

This paper examines the effects of substituting computer simulations in place of real laboratory equipment in the second semester of a large-scale introductory physics course. The direct current (DC) circuit laboratory was modified to compare the effects of using computer simulations with the effects of using real light bulbs, meters and wires. Three groups of students, those who used real equipment, those who used computer simulations, and those who had no lab experience, 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 conceptual survey of the domain and in the coordinated tasks of assembling a real circuit and describing how it worked