Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Effect of a Virtual Chemistry Laboratory on Students' Achievement

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Effect of a Virtual Chemistry Laboratory on Students' Achievement

Article excerpt

Introduction

Chemistry is perceived by students as a challenging subject, since it is difficult to construct the abstract concepts frequently encountered in the subject area (Ayas & Demirbas, 1997; Nakleh, 1992). Although Turkish students study chemistry as a minor part of the primary-school science course, it is first encountered as a separate course during the ninth grade. More than 70% of these students took the course for the first and last time (Ministry of National Education 2007). Therefore, achievement in the chemistry course during this period profoundly influences students' branch preferences in their subsequent education.

Previous studies of ninth- grade chemistry topics found that students can understand the course unit on physical and chemical changes (Ayas & Demirbas, 1997), but have difficulty understanding events at the micro level and explaining chemical changes in relation to chemical bonds (Mirzalar Kabapinar & Adik, 2005). In addition, the literature shows that students have difficulty in constructing the topic of the chemical-changes unit in their minds; and that teachers do not support students adequately during this construction process (Palmer & Treagust, 1996; Ayas & Demirbas, 1997; Ayas, Karamustafaoglu, Sevim & Karamustafaoglu, 2002; Kabapinar & Adik, 2005; Ozmen, 2005; Atasoy, Genc, Kadayifci, & Akkus, 2007). The reason for this weakness is frequently attributed to the lack of laboratory practice (Yang & Heh, 2007). The reason for this weakness is frequently attributed to the lack of laboratory practice (Yang & Heh, 2007). Although laboratory work is an indispensable element of understanding chemistry courses, previous studies have reported that it cannot be properly embedded into traditional chemistry courses for various reasons, such as safety concerns, a lack of self-confidence, and an excessive amount of time and effort required to conduct accurate experiments (Elton, 1983; Bryant & Edmunt, 1987; Hofstein & Lunetta, 2004; Durmus & Bayraktar, 2010). Nonetheless, it is not impossible to overcome these obstacles via technology-based alternatives (Okon, Kaliszan, Lawenda, Stoklosa, Rajtar, Meyer, & Stroinski, 2006).

An alternative learning environment, called a virtual laboratory, can help to make this crucial educational application available to students (Kumar Pakala, Ragade, & Wong, 1998; Shin, Yoon, Park & Lee, 2000; Grob, 2002; SAVVIS, 2010; Jeschke, Richter, & Zorn, 2010). Virtual laboratories simulate a real laboratory environment and processes, and are defined as learning environments in which students convert their theoretical knowledge into practical knowledge by conducting experiments (Woodfield, 2005). Virtual laboratories provide students with meaningful virtual experiences and present important concepts, principles, and processes. By means of virtual laboratories, students have the opportunity of repeating any incorrect experiment or to deepen the intended experiences. Moreover, the interactive nature of such teaching methods offers a clear and enjoyable learning environment (Ardac & Akaygun, 2004 Jeschke, Richter, & Zorn, 2010). Table 1 shows a comparison of the reasons why chemistry teachers do not include laboratory applications in their teaching and the solutions offered by virtual laboratories.

As seen in Table 1, a virtual laboratory may sometimes be a preferable alternative, or simply a supportive learning environment, to real laboratories. A virtual laboratory provides students with opportunities such as enriching their learning experiences; conducting experiments as if they were in real laboratories; and improving their experiment-related skills such as manipulating materials and equipment, collecting data, completing experiment process in an interactive way (with boundless supplies), and preparing experiment reports (Subramanian & Marsic, 2001).

Researchers have determined that instructions carried out with virtual laboratories significantly increase student achievement levels. …

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