Why Use Microcomputer Based Labs (MBLs)

Initial Publication Date: December 21, 2006
Image Courtesy of Vernier Software

Evidence from science education research suggests that students learn best when engaged in activities supported by interactive student-centered learning environments. Microcomputer based data acquisition provides an extremely diverse learning tool which can be used to interactively engage students as active participants in the learning process and can help support inquiry based learning strategies. Since the microcomputer based laboratory environment is very student friendly, students have confidence to use these tools in guided exploration or in explorations of their own design.

Microcomputer sensor interfaces and associated software have made data acquisition, graphing, and analysis extremely easy. Students with little technical background can quickly master these tools and focus on understanding the scientific processes being studied. The ease of data collection encourages students to repeat measurements that seem unrealistic, to take multiple measurements to enhance precision, and to design their own experiments.

Instructors can easily set up microcomputer based data collection experiments for use in interactive lecture demonstrations. In fact it is essentially no more difficult to use a temperature sensor connected to a microcomputer than it is to use a conventional thermometer. This is particularly true when a computer and projection system are already in place in the lecture room. The clear advantage of a microcomputer sensor is that results can be displayed for all to see and easily stored for comparison with other experimental variations.