Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

A Review of Research on Technology-Assisted School Science Laboratories

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

A Review of Research on Technology-Assisted School Science Laboratories

Article excerpt

Introduction

Laboratory learning constitutes an indispensable part of science education. Laboratories can motivate students, provoke active learning, and convey practice of science (Linn, 1997). Lunetta, Hofstein, and Clough (2007) defined school science laboratories (SSLs) as "learning experiences in which students interact with materials or with secondary sources of data to observe and understand the natural world" (p.394). For decades, SSLs have played a unique role in science curricula, providing opportunities for students to engage in investigation processes. Through experiencing scientific investigations, students might develop the abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry as well as an understanding of scientific inquiry (National Research Council [NRC], 2011).

The recent reform documents for K-12 and for post secondary education have stressed the importance of technology in SSLs. In these documents, the learning goals of having students gain knowledge and adequate skills for using technologies while practicing authentic science are explicitly stated (NRC, 2011; College Board, 2009). SSLs are expected to gradually equip students with the abilities to use technologies to gather, analyze, and transform data, as well as to create models, to communicate and to collaborate with others. Activities that reflect features of authentic inquiry are relatively complex and cognitively demanding (Chinn & Malhotra, 2002). Supports from technologies have been used to reduce cognitive load and overcome obstacles of learning in realistic experiments due to time, space, scale, and resources. A large-scale international survey, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has also begun to explore the possibilities of assessing students' skills in science using simulated laboratory experiments (OECD, 2010). Technology is playing an ever-increasing role in laboratory learning.

The incorporation of technologies in laboratory instruction may change not only the layout and supplementary resources, but also the nature of learning and teaching. Given the rapidity with which these technologies are being implemented in SSLs, a review of empirical studies is timely to understand how features of technologies can be matched with learners' needs and task demands as well as what the impacts on learning science in a technologyassisted laboratory are. Several reviews have been carried out to analyze and discuss the purposes and styles of SSLs, as well as the key elements that affect laboratory activities (e.g., Domin, 1999; Hofstein & Lunetta, 2004; Lunetta et al., 2007). Other reviews have in part examined the effects of technology on learning in science education or inquiry (e.g., Lee et al., 2011; Ma & Nickerson, 2006; Nelson & Ketelhut, 2007; Scalise, Timms, Moorjani, Clark, Holtermann, & Irvin, 2011). However, the combination of technology and SSLs has not been well documented in previous reviews. Thus, the purpose of this study was to conduct a systematic analysis of the general trend of applying technology to assist SSLs, including types of technology and their effectiveness. Our findings can be used as a springboard for the design and implementation of technology-assisted laboratories that support various aspects of scientific inquiry.

In the subsequent sections, we define the crucial concepts used in this study. Empirical studies that incorporate technologies to assist laboratory learning are analyzed using the narrative review method. Through the analyses, we hope to pinpoint some less explored areas in the current trends of technology-assisted laboratory studies. Alignments among characteristics of technologies, student involvement, and elements of scientific investigation as well as technology affordances for important learning outcomes are then discussed. Although technologies have shown some advantages in assisting students' learning of science in laboratories, which are presented in our findings, the incorporation of technologies may have changed students' experiences of the real-world phenomena and of scientific investigation in comparison to their experiences in traditional laboratories. …

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