, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 133-147
Date: 29 Mar 2011

Virtual and Physical Experimentation in Inquiry-Based Science Labs: Attitudes, Performance and Access

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Abstract

This study investigated the learning dimensions that occur in physical and virtual inquiry-based lab investigations, in first-year secondary chemistry classes. This study took place over a 2 year period and utilized an experimental crossover design which consisted of two separate trials of laboratory investigation. Assessment data and attitudinal data were gathered and analyzed to measure the instructional value of physical and virtual lab experiences in terms of student performance and attitudes. Test statistics were conducted for differences of means for assessment data. Student attitudes towards virtual experiences in comparison to physical lab experiences were measured using a newly created Virtual and Physical Experimentation Questionnaire (VPEQ). VPEQ was specifically developed for this study, and included new scales of Usefulness of Lab, and Equipment Usability which measured attitudinal dimensions in virtual and physical lab experiences. A factor analysis was conducted for questionnaire data, and reliability of the scales and internal consistency of items within scales were calculated. The new scales were statistically valid and reliable. The instructional value of physical and virtual lab experiences was comparable in terms of student performance. Students showed preference towards the virtual medium in their lab experiences. Students showed positive attitudes towards physical and virtual experiences, and demonstrated a preference towards inquiry-based experiences, physical or virtual. Students found virtual experiences to have higher equipment usability as well as a higher degree of open-endedness. In regards to student access to inquiry-based lab experiences, virtual and online alternatives were viewed favorably by students.