The Effectiveness of Using Virtual Experiments on Students’ Learning in the General Physics Lab
The objective of this study is to explore the effectiveness of using virtual experiments on students’ level of achievement and on their practical skills as well as their views on applying the virtual experiments in a general physics lab.
There is a continuous debate in the literature on the effect of using virtual experiments/ lab on students’ physics learning and whether those virtual experiments can substitute and/or enhance students’ performance in the real lab. Also, there is a need to design effective learning environments which are more suitable to students’ characteristics in the digital age and can help them to acquire science inquiry and practical skills.
Mixed research methodology is adopted including quasi-experimental design, achievement test, participatory observation, and semi-structured interviews. Two groups of students were selected: an experimental group (45 students) and control group (45 students).
The study results contribute to the ongoing discussion on the role of virtual lab in learning and teaching general physics lab and provide a model of combining virtual and real lab as well as an alternative solution under the times of COVID 19.
The results of the study showed that substituting face-to-face theoretical preparation in the general physics lab is at least equally effective as using virtual experiments. Students with virtual components acquired deeper understanding of physics concepts and were better prepared for carrying out real experiments. Attending online videos spared students’ time and provided them with a more flexible and rich learning environment.
Faculty members are encouraged to use virtual experiments instead of face-to-face lab preparation. It is important to include more interactive multimedia and short online videos in the design of the virtual experiments.
The development of virtual experiments can be extended to other experiments and topics in science. Researchers are encouraged to combine both quantitative and qualitative data collection tools to allow deeper exploration of students learning in the virtual environments.
Virtual labs have the potential to save time and cost for both students and university as they reduce presence hours at the university in the real lab. Virtual experiments provide flexible learning opportunities that can overcome time, pace, and place barriers for learners from the community. They also provide a solution for physical distancing needed due to the emergency conditions imposed by the pandemic.
Further investigations are needed to include the development of the whole introductory physics lab into virtual course and to explore the digital (virtual) transformation of other topics in physics and science as well.