Design of Online Report Writing Based on Constructive and Cooperative Learning for a Course on Traditional General Physics Experiments

By Lo, Hao-Chang | Educational Technology & Society, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Design of Online Report Writing Based on Constructive and Cooperative Learning for a Course on Traditional General Physics Experiments


Lo, Hao-Chang, Educational Technology & Society


Introduction

The educational laboratory has been a common feature of introductory courses since the 1800s, and has received emphasis during reforms in the 1960s (Blosser, 1983). Traditional laboratories/cookbook experiments are often derided in the research literature as " old-style labs" because the reform movement in science education has led laboratory work to be an inquiry and problem-solving process. However, it seems that even today cookbook experiments are used in many physics laboratories. The reason cookbook laboratories are popular may be because they directly assist undergraduate students in learning how to conduct different experiments, to work in "real" science laboratories in large-scale classrooms with few instructors.

Writing a laboratory report, a type of science writing, plays an essential role in laboratory activities. Experiments may aid not only in the development of conceptual thinking and imagination, but also in fostering scientific practices in the classroom. It also provides a basic means in science for evaluating raised alternatives as possible solutions (Kreitler & Kreitler, 1974). The principal goal of the laboratory report is to document learners' findings and communicate their significance. A good laboratory report does not only present data, but also demonstrates student comprehension of the concepts behind the data.

Laboratory report writing serves a specific purpose in science learning, and cookbook laboratories are used in numerous courses on general physics experiments. Developing a laboratory report writing activity to foster students' understanding of experiments is essential in traditional general physics laboratory work.

Constructivism asserts that learning is an active, interpretive, and iterative process (Tobin, 1990). Learning is contextualized, and learners construct knowledge by solving genuine and meaningful problems (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Polman, 1999). Students need opportunities to negotiate their understanding, both within a social setting and the current knowledge of the scientific community (Prawat, 1989). Students share multiple perspectives and generalize their understanding and knowledge to enable application in different contexts when they articulate their knowledge to one another (Collins, 1991). Articulation involves students thinking of their actions and providing reasons for their decisions and strategies, making their tacit knowledge more explicit or overt (Wilson & Cole, 1996). Articulation can be achieved in various other means, including working in groups, discussing and debating issues, reporting, presenting findings, and negotiating and defending knowledge acquired through learning environments. Reflection, which is a closely related idea, is proposed as well (Wilson & Cole, 1996). Reflection includes the process of analyzing and making judgments on occurrences to provide new meaning to a situation.

For helping students construct scientific knowledge when they write laboratory reports after class, writing activities should provide students with the opportunity to recall the experimental process, to communicate and negotiate the understanding of scientific activity, and to think reflectively when engaging in their writing. Johnson and Johnson (1991) perused scientific journals and showed that most scientific research is conducted by groups of scientists. This indicates that laboratory report writing, as a part of scientific research, should be finished cooperatively by student groups, and writing should be a cooperative learning process.

Johnson and Johnson (1984) claimed that positive interdependence, promotive interaction, individual accountability, group processing, and social skills are the five essential elements of cooperative learning. Positive interdependence means that students must participate fully and exert effort within their group, and each group member has a task/role/responsibility; therefore, they must believe they are responsible for their individual learning and the learning of their group. …

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