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

Noah Finkelstein, University of Colorado at Boulder

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.

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Grade Level: Graduate/Professional, College Upper (15-16), College Lower (13-14)
Topics: Chemistry/Physics/Mathematics