Zacharia Constantinou - AJP 2008

Comparing the influence of physical and virtual manipulatives in the context of the Physics by Inquiry curriculum: The case of undergraduate students’ conceptual understanding of heat and temperature
American Journal of Physics, Volume 76, Number 4 (April 2008), pp. 425-430

Zacharias C. Zacharia, Constantinos P. Constantinou

We compare the effect of experimenting with physical or virtual manipulatives on undergraduate students’ conceptual understanding of heat and temperature. A pre–post comparison study design was used to replicate all aspects of a guided inquiry classroom except the mode in which students performed their experiments. This study is the first on physical and virtual manipulative experimentation in physics in which the curriculum, method of instruction, and resource capabilities were explicitly controlled. The participants were 68 undergraduates in an introductory course and were randomly assigned to an experimental or a control group. Conceptual tests were administered to both groups to assess students’ understanding before, during, and after instruction. The result indicates that both modes of experimentation are equally effective in enhancing students’ conceptual understanding. This result is discussed in the context of an ongoing debate on the relative importance of virtual and real laboratory work in physics education.