Date of Graduation

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

College/School

School of Education

Department/Program

Learning and Instruction

First Advisor

Mathew Mitchell

Second Advisor

Susan Prion

Third Advisor

Kevin Oh

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of using computer simulations as a pre-training activity to a hands-on lab to improve students’ understanding of induction topics in physics. The computer simulation activity was compared to an overview presentation. Conceptual understanding and spatial ability were measured. A two-group descriptive repeated measures design was implemented with a convenience sample of 35 community college physics students in the Bay Area. Participants were randomly assigned to a simulation group (n = 17) or a presentation group (n = 18). A 30-item spatial ability assessment was given to all participants one week before the day of the experiment.

On the day of the experiment, the simulation group completed a 30-minute induction simulation activity while the presentation group received a 30-minute overview presentation. Both groups then completed a 90-minute hands-on lab. Before completing the simulation activity or receiving the overview presentation, an 18-item conceptual understanding test was given to all participants. The same test was given as a posttest after participants completed the simulation activity or received the overview presentation, and again as a second posttest after participants completed the hands-on lab.

Overall results suggest that the overview presentation was more effective in improving students understanding of induction topics in comparison to completing the simulation activity. However, both groups showed noticeable conceptual understanding gains. The simulations had a medium effect (d = 0.68) and the overview presentation had a large effect (d = 1.07) on conceptual understanding. Results also suggest that high spatial ability participants benefited more from the simulations while the low spatial ability participants benefited more from the overview presentation. Both male and females benefited similarly from the overview presentation. However, male participants seemed to have benefited more from the simulations.

Although the overview presentation was more effective in improving students understanding of induction topics, the 30-minute computer simulation activity still made a difference in student learning. This result can be seen as a positive finding suggesting that 30-minutes of working with simulations could help students improve their understanding of physics concepts even if they had not used the simulations before.

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