Providing guidance in virtual lab experimentation: the case of an experiment design tool

  • Charalampos Efstathiou
  • Tasos Hovardas
  • Nikoletta A. Xenofontos
  • Zacharias C. ZachariaEmail author
  • Ton deJong
  • Anjo Anjewierden
  • Siswa A. N. van Riesen
Development Article


The present study employed a quasi-experimental design to assess a computer-based tool, which was intended to scaffold the task of designing experiments when using a virtual lab for the process of experimentation. In particular, we assessed the impact of this tool on primary school students’ cognitive processes and inquiry skills before and after the study’s treatment, using pre- and post-tests. Our research design involved a group of students who used the computer-based tool/scaffold to design the study’s experiments (experimental condition) and a group of students who used a paper-and-pencil worksheet as a scaffold to design the same experiments (control condition). The primary finding of the study was that the use of the computer-based experiment design tool had a more positive effect on students’ inquiry skills related to identifying variables and designing investigations than the paper-and-pencil one. This might be attributed to the functionalities provided only by the computer-based experiment design tool, which enabled students to focus their attention on crucial aspects of the task of designing experiments through (1) maintaining values for constant variables when planning experimental trials and (2) the provision of instant feedback when classifying variables into independent, dependent and controlled variables. Moreover, students in the two conditions displayed differing patterns of interactions among cognitive process and inquiry skills. Implications for designing and assessing similar computer-based scaffolds are discussed.


Experimental design science education Virtual labs Inquiry skills 



The authors are thankful to Dr. Anjo Anjewierden and Ms. Siswa A. N. van Riesen for designing and developing the Splash virtual lab and the Experiment design Tool. This study was conducted in the context of the research project Global Online Science Labs for Inquiry Learning at School (Go-Lab), which is funded by the European Community under the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) theme of the 7th Framework Programme for R&D (Grant Agreement No.: 317601).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charalampos Efstathiou
    • 1
  • Tasos Hovardas
    • 1
  • Nikoletta A. Xenofontos
    • 1
  • Zacharias C. Zacharia
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ton deJong
    • 2
  • Anjo Anjewierden
    • 2
  • Siswa A. N. van Riesen
    • 2
  1. 1.University of CyprusNicosiaCyprus
  2. 2.University of TwenteEnschedeThe Netherlands

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