Over the last ten years the use of information and communicationtechnologies (ICT) has become an important resource to schools throughout thecountry and education in general. In order to understand ICT and to utilise itto its full potential, it is important to define what ICT is. ICT is the use oftechnologies that provide access to information through telecommunicationsmedia. ICT is similar to Information Technology (IT), but focuses primarily oncommunication technologies (Torres-Coronas, 2012) and has enabled education toredefine strategies and concepts of teaching and learning (Klimova, 2012).
Thishas been done through enriching classrooms and learning activities,reorganising course structures, and providing learners with more autonomous aswell as more learner focused opportunities. Recently, the world hasexperienced considerable growth, development and advancement of technologyparticularly in terms of ICT. Continuous advancements in ICT not only improvetechnology, but they also have the potential to enhance educational, social andeconomic growth (Qaisrani and Ahmed, 2014).
The integration of computers andcommunications with its capacity to integrate and interact with others globallybut also in a meaningful way that enhances learning possibilities, offersunprecedented opportunities to education (Majumdar, 2009). In recent times, theadvancements of ICT such as its ease of use, the ability and diversity ofinformation available allows teachers and students to have access to learningthem stems beyond the classroom environment. Furthermore, ICT has the potentialto alter learning environments, to create a new learning culture, whileproviding further opportunities for learning through allowing students toeasily and efficiently access information. Incorporating ICT into classroomsalso helps students to share resources, encourage student-centred learning andenhance critical thinking and problem solving skills.Research suggests that incorporating ICT into lessons has advantages forall students and all abilities including those with special educational needs (SEN)and can be used within class and in a way, promoting inclusive education (Course,2006, Turner-Cmuchal,2016, Stilz and Wissenbach,2016)In terms of incorporatingthe use of ICT into teaching, Palak and Walls (2009) conducted a mixed studyexamining whether teachers who integrate ICT into classrooms change theirperspective and practices toward a student-centred paradigm. Their resultsshowed that teacher practices did not change, while they also noted thatneither student-centred or teacher-centred beliefs act as predictors ofpractices.
Interestingly, Palak and Walls (2009) also concluded that teachers’attitudes toward ICT significantly effect how both teacher and student usetechnology, as well as the use of a variety of instructional strategies (ShanFo, 2013). The ever changingeducational environments, with rapidly advancing ICT, places considerableresponsibility on the teachers to provide high quality education for allstudents. Adapting teaching strategies to facilitate all students is a complextask, and teaching utilising ICT creates new demands for education (Josjo,2012).
This study will focus on the use of virtual experiment combined withphysical experiments versus the traditional physical experiments in scienceeducation. In order to examine this approach it is important to clarify whatvirtual experiments are. According to Harry and Edward (2005) virtual experimentsdefinedas “experiments without real laboratories. They enable students to linkbetween the theory and practice, without the need for traditional laboratory equipment.It is a digital based programme that simulates real experiments inside the reallaboratories.” (Harry and Edward, 2005).
While both virtual andphysical experiments can achieve the learning objectives, each method providesits own unique advantages. For example, with physical experiments students candevelop practical laboratory skills, including following protocols,troubleshooting, and experiencing challenges that scientists face when planningand conducting experiments that require careful setup of equipment andobservations over time (Tong de Jong et al., 2013).
Whereas an importantaspect of virtual experiments is that experiments and variables can be adaptedto promote learning of experimental processes. Virtual experiments can simplifylearning by highlighting important information while removing non-essential andconfusing details (8),they can modify variables, such as time, quantity and concentrations andsimplify certain processes for students to understand (9).A recent study conductedby Zacharia and Olympiou (2011) compared learning from both physical andvirtual experiments in Physics. The study focused on a section from a Physicsby Inquiry program on heat and heat transfer.
Students were randomly assignedto one of five sections, all of which involved a 1.5-hour class taken once aweek for 15 weeks. The traditional class (control group) did not engage in anylaboratory work themselves, but instead viewed an instructor or a virtual demonstrationof the experiments. Students were exposed to all of the same information as theother groups but did not engage in experiments. Tests were administered toassess students’ understanding before, during and after instruction.
Theanalyses revealed that the four experimental conditions were equally effectivein promoting students’ understanding of concepts in the domain of heat andtemperature and better than the control condition; either physical or virtualmanipulation, ,at least in a context like the one of the present study, isimportant in physics learning. Results from Zacharia and Olympiou (2011)suggests that virtual labs can be effective to promote conceptual learning.However, if the goal involves learning complex psychomotor skills and/orlearner decisions or actions based on sensory cues, physical or at least acombination of both physical and virtual learning resources would be mostappropriate. Combinations of physicaland virtual experiments in science education may be beneficial for studentlearning as it can utilise the advantages of both approaches. Supporting this theoryis a study conducted by Huppert et al. (31),their results suggest that students who conduct physical laboratories alone wereless successful on a conceptual test than a group where a virtual experimentwas included for each physical laboratory session.
Another study conducted by Kolloffeland de Jong (16)found that engineering students who did a combination of physical and virtual learningwere more successful than those doing a physical learning alone on bothconceptual and procedural knowledge of electric circuits, suggesting that thisapproach may also have the potential for cross curricular learning.Climent-Bellido, Martínez-Jiménez et al. (32)compared chemistry students who used a physical laboratory with students whoused a simulation of distillation preceding the physical laboratory and foundan advantage for the combination. Olympiou and Zacharia (30)studied freshmen students learning about optics under three conditions: onlyvirtual, only physical, and a combination.
Students in the combined conditionoutperformed those in the physical alone and virtual alone conditions,attesting the value of the combination over both other conditions.