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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Learning physics with interactive simulations : inductive inquiry learning activities for an introductory electromagnetism course Massey-Allard, Jonathan


In this work the use of interactive simulations in inquiry activities designed for the tutorials of a large enrollment introductory electromagnetism course is investigated. Interactive simulations are educational tools that allow students to uncover the rules that govern a simulated physics phenomenon through a process of scientific inquiry. This thesis reports the results of a study that compared a series of three collaborative and scaffolded inductive inquiry activities where students invented a rule for a certain physics phenomenon from observations they either generated themselves from a simulation or that were instead provided directly to them as a set of so-called "contrasting cases''. Contrasting cases are particularly beneficial since they directly highlight important rule features when compared to one another. While contrasting cases thus provide more support to students when inventing their rule, the simulation-based activities can provide students with more of an opportunity to practice and develop valuable exploration skills. Results from the study demonstrate that generating observations from a simulation is less likely to lead students to invent the correct rule and generally leads to poorer immediate conceptual learning outcomes as compared to using a set of contrasting cases. In terms of exploration outcomes, students using contrasting cases also reported comparatively more observations to support their rule. However, differences between conditions on exploration outcomes were minimized when students used simulations that were less open-ended and possessed clear visual cues that guided students in investigating relevant domain features. Finally, the above student outcomes were also compared across two final assessment inquiry activities where students worked individually; in the first, students invented the target physics rule by generating their own cases from a simulation, while in the other they used a set contrasting cases. Results show that students that had previously practiced inventing with contrasting cases performed the same or better on all outcomes compared to those that practiced inventing by generating observations from a simulation.

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