The potential of virtual laboratories for distance education science teaching: reflections from the development and evaluation of a virtual chemistry laboratory

Barney Dalgarno, Andrea G. Bishop, Danny R. Bedgood Jr

Abstract


A virtual chemistry laboratory has been developed at Charles Sturt University, based on an accurate 3D model of the Wagga Wagga undergraduate teaching laboratory. The initial version of the virtual laboratory has been designed to enable distance education chemistry students to become familiar with the laboratory prior to their residential school. It allows for free exploration and for collecting and assembling items of apparatus. It also allows students to read information about the items of apparatus and about laboratory procedures.

This paper describes the current features of the virtual laboratory and discusses the pedagogical rationale for its development. Results from questionnaires completed by pilot testers and by the first group of students who used it as part of their laboratory orientation are included. The results of tests comparing the laboratory familiarity of students who used the virtual laboratory with those who viewed equivalent still images are also presented. The paper concludes with a description of features to be added during the next stage of development, which will include the ability for students to undertake virtual experiments while exploring concepts using macroscopic, molecular and symbolic representations.

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