The effects of computer simulations on students' conceptual understanding of direct current resistive electric circuits

Llesh Miraj, Pace University


Researchers are divided on two issues. First, there is a disagreement among researchers on the effectiveness of virtual manipulation when compared to hands-on manipulation. Second, there is an ongoing dispute among the researchers about the amount of teacher guidance during instruction. Therefore, the purpose of this study was twofold: (a) to compare the relative effectiveness of hands-on and simulation learning environments by examining how each environment contributed to changes in student’s conceptual understanding of direct current (DC) electric circuits (Zacharia, 2008; Jaakkola 2012); and (b) to explore whether and how changes in conceptual understanding in simulation and hands-on inquiry learning environments are mediated by unguided and guided instruction (Jaakkola, 2012). To design this pre-post test quasi-experimental study groups of students from a convenient sample of 173, 16- to 17-year-old participants from an urban public school district in northeastern of the United States, were randomized into four integrated inquiry-learning environments: hand-on with guided instruction (HEWGI), simulation with guided instruction (SEWGI), hands-on with unguided instruction (HEWUI), and simulation with unguided instruction (SEWUI). In these groups students developed conceptual understanding on their own through inquiry. Students investigated the concepts and constructed conceptual knowledge by carrying out experiments (University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Education, The ThinkerTools Research Group, n.d.). Planned contrasts revealed that students in simulation inquiry-learning environments performed at least as well as students in hands-on inquiry-learning environments. Specifically the level of students’ understanding of DC electric circuits concepts in simulation inquiry environment with unguided instruction was not significantly different from the level of students’ conceptual understanding of DC electric circuits in hands-on inquiry-environment with unguided instruction. Students in a simulation environment with guided instruction showed a better understanding of the concepts of DC electric circuits than the students in a hands-on environment with guided instruction. Differences in conceptual understanding between students in hands-on environment with guided instruction and those in hands-on inquiry-learning environment with unguided instruction did not reach statistical significance. The results of this study showed the relative effectiveness of a simulation-learning environment in promoting the students’ conceptual understanding of DC electricity. This study demonstrated that in an integrated physics unit of study about electricity, learning with computer simulations was at least as effective as learning with traditional hands-on equipment. More importantly this study implies that, in situations where students use an all in one curriculum, such as PbI, to learn the concepts of DC electric circuits by inquiry on their own without teacher interference, the simulation inquiry-learning environment was as equally effective as the traditional hands-on inquiry-learning environment. Besides, in hands-on inquiry-learning environment, instructional guidance provided by the teacher did not contribute to better conceptual understanding than minimal or no guidance.

Subject Area

Educational technology|Computer science

Recommended Citation

Miraj, Llesh, "The effects of computer simulations on students' conceptual understanding of direct current resistive electric circuits" (2015). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI10139029.



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