Physical Meets Virtual

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Science  20 Jan 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6066, pp. 265
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6066.265-a

Studies designed to evaluate the relative educational merit of two modes of laboratory instruction—physical manipulatives (PMs) consisting of real-world physical apparatus, or virtual manipulatives (VMs) consisting of computer-based simulations—have produced inconsistent results. These studies have examined PM and VM used individually in a sequential order, revealing little insight into whether a blended PM/VM combination would enhance students' learning. Using a laboratory unit on light and color, Olympiou and Zacharia identified the affordances of PM and VM that support students' conceptual understanding and developed a framework that blended them accordingly. To test the framework's effectiveness, the authors randomly assigned freshmen in an introductory physics course to PM, VM, and PM/VM groups sharing the same instructors and laboratory space, and administered conceptual tests before, during, and after the study. Analysis showed no difference in pretest scores, yet revealed that the blended PM/VM framework enhanced students' understanding of light and color concepts more than PM or VM alone. Test scores from the PM and VM groups were similar, implying that for this study, the use of either was equally effective. More research on how to optimize PM and VM blends is needed before generalized conclusions can be reached.

Sci. Educ. 96, 21 (2012).

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