Using computer simulations to facilitate conceptual understanding of electromagnetic induction
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This study investigated the use of computer simulations to facilitate conceptual understanding in physics. The use of computer simulations in the present study was grounded in a conceptual framework drawn from findings related to the use of computer simulations in physics education. To achieve the goal of effective utilization of computers for physics education, I first reviewed studies pertaining to computer simulations in physics education categorized by three different learning frameworks and studies comparing the effects of different simulation environments. My intent was to identify the learning context and factors for successful use of computer simulations in past studies and to learn from the studies which did not obtain a significant result. Based on the analysis of reviewed literature, I proposed effective approaches to integrate computer simulations in physics education. These approaches are consistent with well established education principles such as those suggested by How People Learn (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, Donovan, & Pellegrino, 2000). The research based approaches to integrated computer simulations in physics education form a learning framework called Concept Learning with Computer Simulations (CLCS) in the current study. The second component of this study was to examine the CLCS learning framework empirically. The participants were recruited from a public high school in Beijing, China. All participating students were randomly assigned to two groups, the experimental (CLCS) group and the control (TRAD) group. Research based computer simulations developed by the physics education research group at University of Colorado at Boulder were used to tackle common conceptual difficulties in learning electromagnetic induction. While interacting with computer simulations, CLCS students were asked to answer reflective questions designed to stimulate qualitative reasoning and explanation. After receiving model reasoning online, students were asked to submit their revised answers electronically. Students in the TRAD group were not granted access to the CLCS material and followed their normal classroom routine. At the end of the study, both the CLCS and TRAD students took a post-test. Questions on the post-test were divided into " what " questions, " how " questions, and an open response question. Analysis of students' post-test performance showed mixed results. While the TRAD students scored higher on the " what " questions, the CLCS students scored higher on the "how" questions and the one open response questions. This result suggested that more TRAD students knew what kinds of conditions may or may not cause electromagnetic induction without understanding how electromagnetic induction works. Analysis of the CLCS students' learning also suggested that frequent disruption and technical trouble might pose threats to the effectiveness of the CLCS learning framework. Despite the mixed results of students' post-test performance, the CLCS learning framework revealed some limitations to promote conceptual understanding in physics. Improvement can be made by providing students with background knowledge necessary to understand model reasoning and incorporating the CLCS learning framework with other learning frameworks to promote integration of various physics concepts. In addition, the reflective questions in the CLCS learning framework may be refined to better address students' difficulties. Limitations of the study, as well as suggestions for future research, are also presented in this study.