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Comparison Of Student Perceptions Of Virtual And Physical Laboratories

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Educational Research

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.347.1 - 14.347.16



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Paper Authors


Milo Koretsky Oregon State University

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Milo Koretsky is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Oregon State University. He currently has research activity in areas related to thin film materials processing and engineering education. He is interested in integrating technology into effective educational practices and in promoting the use of higher level cognitive skills in engineering problem solving. Dr. Koretsky is a six-time Intel Faculty Fellow and has won awards for his work in engineering education at the university and national levels.

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Christine Kelly Oregon State University

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Christine Kelly is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Oregon State University. She currently has research activity in biological production and use of ligninolytic enzymes in biomass deconstruction for bioproducts and biofuels manufacture. She also has interests in developing tools to promote the use of higher cognitive skills in engineering coursework. Dr. Kelly recently earned OSU's Austin-Paul Engineering FacultyAward for mentoring students.

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Philip Harding Oregon State University

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Philip Harding holds the Linus Pauling Chair in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering and is responsible for the development of the 3-term senior laboratory sequence for these disciplines. Dr. Harding has 15 years of professional experience in the oil, pulp and paper, and microelectronics industries and holds several patents. His primary objective is to prepare students for the work force by providing them context for applying their technical training, developing their written and oral communication skills, and building leadership skills.

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Edith Gummer Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory

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Edith Gummer is the Director of the Classroom-Focused Research and Evaluation Program for the Center for Classroom Teaching and Learning at the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. She coordinated the structure of the research design and the data collection and analysis processes of the project. She has been faculty in science and mathematics education quantitative and qualitative research design courses at the doctoral level. She has been involved in the development of innovative mathematics curricular activities and formative assessment in mathematics problem solving.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Comparison of Student Perceptions of Virtual and Physical Laboratories Key words: metacognition, experimental design, virtual laboratory

Abstract This paper presents an analysis of student survey responses after completion of three different laboratories, two physical laboratories and a virtual laboratory. Students’ perceptions of the three different laboratory experiences are discussed from the focus of intended (metacognitive questions) and actual learning (cognitive questions). The student responses were coded by three researchers, the coding process was modified to increase the interrater reliability from around 0.7 to around 0.9 and was verified by two independent coders. Student perceptions about the laboratory experiences were also correlated to student performance in the class, as measured by the students’ scores on all graded assessments for the course. Analysis of metacognitive statements of students show enhanced awareness of experimental design, and greater occurrences of critical thinking and higher order cognition in the virtual laboratories. These statements are consistent with the type of learning that has been previously measured for one of these virtual laboratories, particularly through a think aloud protocol that has been reported elsewhere.

Introduction The undergraduate laboratory plays a pivotal role in science and engineering curriculum, especially in the context of developing students’ abilities of scientific inquiry and engineering design. The pedagogical value of the hands-on experience that a laboratory provides is ubiquitously endorsed by educators;1 however, in practice the engineering laboratory has limitations as well. Laboratories are resource intensive, both in terms of acquiring and maintaining the equipment and in terms of staffing requirements. A possible way to overcome these limitations of the traditional physical laboratory is to use alternative modes of delivery, such as virtual laboratories. In a virtual laboratory, students do not interact with real equipment to obtain data, but rather with computer simulations of laboratory or industrial process equipment, obscured by pre-programmed statistical variation. The virtual laboratory is intended to allow future engineers to practice the skills they will need in industry, in much the same way a flight simulator is used for training pilots. This learning environment is compelling not only because it can alleviate resource constraints, but also because it can address learning outcomes not possible with a physical laboratory. In contrast to a physical laboratory experience, data collection is performed virtually, and therefore, consumes a relatively small amount of the student’s cognitive load.2 Thus, student effort can be expended on problem scoping (including information gathering) and developing an experimental strategy to explore the design space and solve the problem. In other words, students can invest cognitive load on developing their schematic knowledge in the analysis and interpretation of the data, and also on developing strategic knowledge as they make decisions and iterate on the design solution.

With varying instructional purposes, virtual laboratories have been developed and integrated into engineering curricula in a wide variety of disciplines.3-9 Virtual process laboratories based on traditional chemical engineering processes such as styrene-butadiene copolymerization10 or hydrogen liquefaction11 have been developed at Purdue and, more recently, a visually impressive set of virtual reality process examples have been implemented at three universities in Australia.12

Koretsky, M., & Kelly, C., & Harding, P., & Gummer, E. (2009, June), Comparison Of Student Perceptions Of Virtual And Physical Laboratories Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5274

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