Examining Teachers’ Practical Experiences with Virtual Labs in High School Science: A Narrative Study


CHAPTER ONE

STUDY RATIONALE AND PURPOSE

Problem Statement

Virtual Laboratories are quickly replacing hands-on laboratory activities as the norm for teaching and learning science in the high school setting (Van Lejeune, 2002). Van Lejeune (2002) and Mint (1993) describe three main reasons for this shift.  First, materials for hands-on laboratory activities are very expensive. Second, the use of chemicals in the classroom could potentially lead to lawsuits if chemicals are not properly handled by either the teacher or student. Third, virtual labs can provide a quality experience for students, especially if the teacher lacks in-depth knowledge of the subject being taught. Research findings by Redish and Steinberg (1999) suggest that students learn most effectively in an active engagement learning environment.  Virtual labs, if used properly, can create and foster this kind of active learning environment. Virtual labs also provide a cheaper alternative to school systems struggling with tight budgets (Van Lejeune, 2002) and eliminates the potential for lawsuits associated with the use of strong or potentially poisonous chemicals (Mint, 1993).

Despite the numerous potential benefits associated with using virtual laboratories to teach science in the high school setting, few studies have been conducted to assess teachers’ practical experience with using virtual laboratories and how these experiences can be used to identify best practices for improving praxis among teachers, especially for new science teachers. Results from several studies suggest that online labs and videos can be as effective as physical or hands-on lab activities (Leonard, et al., 1992; Malderelli, 2009; Cengiz, 2010; Gobert, et al., 2011; Tatli, Z. & Ayas, A, 2013; Kun-Yuan, Y. & Jian-Sheng, H. 2007).  In addition, a study among high school students identified a number of positive effects associated with using technology in the classroom (Reid-Griffin & Carter, 2004). These positive effects include improved student achievement and better student engagement.  Furthermore, the individualized nature of technology empowers students to take more risks in their learning and to be more willing to make mistakes. Controversy around virtual labs remains, however, as some researchers (Kennepohl, D. 2001; Nedic, Z., Matchoska, J., & Nafalski, J. 2003; Finkelstein, et al., 2005) have found online labs to be less effective than hands-on labs.  These researchers also found that students preferred face-to-face labs over virtual labs.

Despite the mixed evidence around the effectiveness of virtual laboratories, the use of these labs in high school science classrooms continues to rise.  The purpose of this research study is to elucidate teachers’ practical experiences with using virtual laboratory activities in their science classroom.  Understanding how teachers experience and use virtual labs in their classroom may provide some context for explaining the discrepancy observed in the literature on the effectiveness of virtual labs at improving student outcomes.  

Why Is Organizational Learning Important?

Learning is an everyday occurrence for most humans (Dewey, 1938). The success of the human race, can in large part, be attributed to the ability of humans to learn and to use that new knowledge to adapt to changes in their environment.  Humans, unique among animals, are able to create and share knowledge.  This shared knowledge allows them to make improvements in their environment or organization. This type of learning is called organizational learning (Argyris & Schon, 1978).  To improve practice in organizations, including schools, it is crucial to understand shared practical experience.

Moreover, there are three types of informational knowledge.  These include: (1) the hard and formal character of knowledge (Childreth & Kimble, 2002); (2) the paradigm mode of knowing (Bruner, 1986); and (3) the soft, tacit, and practical knowledge (Takeuchi, 1995). Current research indicates that soft, tacit, and practical knowledge can be meaningfully captured using a narrative inquiry approach (Boje, 2007; Czarniawski, 2007; & Gabriel, 2000). This study, therefore, will use a narrative approach to investigate teachers’ shared practical experiences with using virtual laboratories to teach science in their high school classrooms. It is my assumption that teachers hold valuable personal and practical knowledge. This study will gather that personal and practical knowledge in order to facilitate the sharing of best practices with teachers unfamiliar with the use virtual laboratories as a teaching tool. This information will be especially useful for new science teachers who most often find themselves using virtual labs in their classrooms with little or no training.

What Led Me to This Topic?

I was born and raised in Tanzania. I attended school in Tanzania for primary school, secondary school, high school, and University. I came to the United States in 2001. I attended a graduate program in environmental science at Towson University from 2002 to 2004. While attending graduate school I worked as an Assistant Laboratory and Field Technician for the Center for Urban Research and Environmental Education at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. In my capacity as an environmental lab and field assistant, I investigated water, air, and soil pollution in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. After I graduated with a Master degree in Environmental Science, I decided to teach for the Baltimore City Public School. I applied to the Baltimore City Teaching Residency (BCTR) in May, 2004, a program designed to attract experienced science and mathematics professionals to teach in the Baltimore City School System. I was accepted into the program and was formerly hired as a teacher in July, 2004. Through the BCTR program, I attended the Johns Hopkins University for a Master’s Degree in Education from July 2004 to May 2007.

Throughout my teaching career, I have witnesses many changes in the technology used in schools. When I was first hired as a science teacher, I had little exposure to classroom technology and its uses. I found it very hard to implement a new technology in the classroom especially when little or no training was offered to accompany that training. For the past five years, I have been using virtual laboratories to teach high school chemistry.  These labs teach a variety of concepts including the difference between chemical and physical changes, the periodic table, naming compounds, and the concept of “moles”.  I have found virtual laboratories to be an effective tool for teaching concepts where a hands-on lab either does not exist or is too expensive or dangerous to conduct.  Since many schools are shifting their investments from hands-on labs to virtual labs, I thought, it would be important to gather teachers’ personal and practical experiences with virtual labs to inform this shift and to identify best practices that could be shared with other teachers.  I plan to capture the experiences that teachers have when using virtual labs with their students through their narratives.

Conceptual Framework

            Learning from experience is central to the creation of practical knowledge in an organization (Cole & Wertsch, 2004). Dewey (1916) suggests that learning from experience is crucial in connecting the past, the present, and the future (as cited in Liu & Mathews, 2005). This study will examine learning from experience through the Vygotskyan social constructivist lens and also through personal reflections. According to Wolcott (1990a), personal experiences can be used to examine a phenomena such as teachers’ personal and practical experiences with virtual labs.

           Social constructivist theory originated from Vygotsky’s work. Social constructivist theory emphasizes collaboration and views learning or meaning as being socially constructed (Resnick, 1991). A central concept of Vygotsky’s work is the role that social collectivity plays in learning and development (Liu & Mathews, 2005). Individuals learn from each other and form their understanding of the world from their interactions with each other.  Social constructivist theory, however, is not without criticism. The major criticism of this theory is that it places too much emphasis on the role of social and collective, but, ignores the role of the individual in meaning construction.  While I acknowledge this criticism, I plan to use social constructivist theory as the basis for my study because I believe that teachers share their experiences with teaching tools, like virtual laboratories, with each other and it is through this communication that they decide whether or not to use these tools in their own classroom.  Thus, I feel that this theory is most aligned with the purpose of my study.  Figure 1 below illustrates the conceptual framework for my study.

 

Informed Future

Practical Experience

Teachers’ Past Experiences

Teachers’ Present Experiences

 

 

 

 

 

Socially Constructed Meaning through Stories

                                                

 

 

Figure 1: Socially Constructed Practical and Personal Experiences of Teachers When Using Virtual Labs.

 

Study Rationale

As mentioned earlier, the use of virtual labs and online learning continues to rise in in high school science courses. This rise in virtual lab usage has implications on how successfully the learning experiences are going to be for teachers and students. This research will identify teachers’ practical and personal experiences with virtual laboratory activities to help create a body of best practices for other teachers. As noted in my personal and professional narrative, most teachers do not actually receive formal training on how to effectively use virtual labs with their students. Therefore, teachers learn through trial and error how best to implement virtual labs in their classrooms.  The risk, however, is that they will not utilize virtual labs correctly, leading to poor student outcomes. This study will gather teachers’ experiences with virtual labs, including the knowledge they have acquired through the use of virtual labs in their own classrooms.  Best practices will be identified and shared with other teachers who are considering implementing virtual labs in their own classrooms.

Research Questions

As in any qualitative study, choosing the type of qualitative inquiry and the questions to fit the approach is the first challenge. In the beginning, I explored various approaches to qualitative inquiry to see which approach was most appropriate to answer my research questions.  After, much deliberation, I chose narrative inquiry to investigate teachers’ practical experience using virtual labs in their classrooms. In my interview, I asked eight main questions to elucidate teachers’ experiences with virtual labs.  These questions are listed below:

  1. Tell me about your educational and professional background.
    1. Probe: How did you become an educator?
  2. What is your teaching philosophy?
  3. How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?
  4. How did you learn about virtual labs?
  5. When did you start using them?
  6. Why did you decide to use virtual labs in your classroom?
  7. What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?
  8. What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?

Summary

In Chapter One, I provided a rationale for my research study and presented the theoretical framework that will form the basis of my study.  In addition, I reviewed the questions that I asked the teachers participating in my study in order to elucidate their experiences using virtual laboratories.  In Chapter Two I will review the origin and definition of several key terms related to my study including: Social Constructionist Theory, Deweyan Experience, Schon’s Reflective Practitioner, and Narrative Inquiry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

Chapter One provided an overview of the purpose of this research study and described the theoretical framework that will be used as the basis of this study. Chapter Two will continue this discussion by reviewing some key terms related to the study. The terms described herein are “Social Constructivist Theory”, “Reflective Practitioner”, and “Experience”. This chapter will also describe Narrative Inquiry which forms the basis of this research study. At the surface level, these terms appear very different, but, at a deeper level they have inter-related meanings.

Social Constructivist Theory: A Vygotskyan Idea

            As described in Chapter One, social construction theory emphasizes the importance of collaboration and views learning or meaning making as socially constructed (Resnick 1991; as cited in Liu & Mathews 2005).  A central concept in Vygotsky’s work is the role that social collectivity plays in learning and development (Liu & Mathews, 2005).  Vygotsky’s social constructivist theory argues that “knowing is relative to the situations in which the knowers find themselves” (Liu & Mathews; 2005; p.392).  The concept of social and the individual being interconnected is the cornerstone of the social constructivist theory and it provides a valid explanation for social and individual change.

Reflective Practitioner: Schon’s Idea

Schon (1986) describes reflection as what practitioners do to examine their increased understanding of a phenomenon that arises from practicing. Reflectivity combines reflections from both past and present actions in order to improve future actions. Schon emphasizes that knowing with doing and thinking with action must go together because they work hand-in-hand.  We cannot “know” and “think” without “doing” and “acting” (Schon, 1986).  Thus, thinking with action is crucial to improving practice. In my experience, teachers and school administrators rarely use reflective action to enhance their praxis. Part of this research study will be encouraging teachers to use narratives or storytelling as form of reflection in action in order to improve and transform their teaching practice.

Experience: A Deweyan Idea

Dewey (1916) views experience as a continuum of reason. Dewey’s work shows his attempt to resolve the dichotomy between experience and reason.  According to Dewey (1916) experience and reason are a continuous mesh of consciousness most meaningful when connected to everyday life. There are two natures of experiences described by Dewey. The first is “trying” which is related to active experience. The second is “undergoing” which is related to passive experience. Dewey was more concerned with active experience because it involves changes of actions through reflection. In order to better understand the nature of active experience, I identified two qualitative studies that described the experiences of teachers who became students.  Their experiences as students helped them identify strategies to improve their teaching.  Mann (2003), a college professor, described her own experience as a student attending an online course.  From her experience, she identified several strategies that teachers can use to foster student learning in a virtual environment.  Similarly, Sinclair (2004; as cited in Case, Marshall, & Linder,2010) spent two years as a student in a mechanical engineering program.  During her time as a student, she identified several challenges that students encounter when entering a new discourse or discipline. She also identified strategies that educators can use to help their students be successful in a new discourse.

 

The two studies illustrate the need to understand teachers’ experiences with virtual labs as it may be one strategy to foster student learning in a virtual environment. Currently, little research has been done in this area, especially among high school science students. My study will address this existing gap in the literature by exploring teachers’ experience with virtual labs using a narrative inquiry approach. In addition, the teachers’ experiences and stories from my exploratory study will help other educators understand the challenges and opportunities associated with using virtual labs in their classrooms, including identifying best practices for integrating virtual labs into the science classroom.

Narrative Inquiry: Stories as a Reflective in Action Tool

Creswell (2013) identifies several approaches to conducting a narrative inquiry. These approaches include: biographical studies, auto-ethnographies, life histories, and oral histories. In my exploratory study, I used a life story narrative approach.  I am not, however, trying to portray the person’s entire life history.  Instead, my questions will focus on capturing a defined time period in the lives of two teachers, namely their experiences using virtual labs as a teaching tool in their high school chemistry course.   This life story narrative approach will take the form of a personal experience story. Denzin (1989a; as cited in Creswell, 2013) states that a personal experience story may be used to study an individual’s personal experience in a single episode and/or in multiple episodes. In this pilot study, I asked the teachers to recall the episodes where they used virtual labs in their classrooms and to relay to me their personal experiences using these labs in their classrooms.  In addition, I collected information about the teachers’ background.  The information helped me to contextualize how their experiences using virtual labs were influenced by their educational background and their teaching philosophy and how the information can be used as best practices for other teachers with little to no experience with virtual lab usage.

Summary

In Chapter Two I explained the key terms: Social Constructionist Theory, Deweyan Experience, Schon’s Reflective Practitioner, and Narrative Inquiry. In the narrative inquiry tradition, stories are used as a tool for capturing practical experiences through reflection. These stories can then be passed on from person to person in an organization as best practices. Brown, Denning, Groh & Prusack (2005) posits that stories are a powerful tool for sharing practical experiences and knowledge in an organization such as a school or school system.

Chapter 3 explains the research approach I have chosen for this study. I have chosen a narrative approach to conduct my study. In addition, I offer justification to why I chose a narrative approach for this study. Finally, I explain how the data was collected and analyzed using the narrative inquiry approach.

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

METHODOLOGY

In Chapter Three, I will explore the reasons behind why I chose narrative inquiry methodology for my research study. I will also explain how I conducted this study from data collection to data analysis, including how I selected my research site and participants.

What Led Me to Choose Narrative Approach

Clandinin & Connelly (2000) argue that practical knowledge gathered from people’s experiences is sharable in the story format.  Narrative inquiry is arguably the best method for capturing those stories and the inherent knowledge to be gained from these stories. In addition, narrative inquiry is a useful methodology for describing an insiders’ experiential knowledge in the form of story-telling (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).  My intention for this study was to identify practical experiences of teachers (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). In addition, I wanted to recognize my self –reflective knowledge and how to capture the experience of teachers who use virtual labs with their students.

To put my experience with technology in context, I will provide my life and professional history.  I was born and raised in Tanzania. I went to school in Tanzania from primary school, secondary school, high school, and University. I came to the United States in 2001. After I graduated with a Master degree in Environmental Science from Towson University, I decided to teach for the Baltimore City Public School. I began my career as a teacher in July 2004 at an inner-city middle school. Most of my students were African-American and from low income households. 

When I was first hired as a science teacher, I had little exposure to classroom technology and its uses. I found it very hard to implement a new technology in the classroom since I rarely received any training to accompany the new technology.  In 2009, I began teaching at a suburban high school in Atlanta.  It was at this high school that I learned about virtual laboratories.  I began using these laboratories in my chemistry classroom.  Again, I did not receive formal training on how to use these labs. Instead, I learned by doing.  I believe this is an experience that many new teachers face. Since many schools are shifting their investment from hands-on labs to virtual labs, I thought it would be useful to gather teacher’s personal and practical experiences with virtual labs. The challenge was that personal and practical knowledge is often hard to capture systematically.

In the process of finding which method was most appropriate to answer my questions, I started by trying the phenomenological approach. According to Creswell (2013), a phenomenological study, “describes the common meaning of several individuals of their lived experience of a concept or a phenomenon.” There are two types of phenomenological studies.  The first type is a heuristic phenomenological approach which brings to the fore the personal experience of the researcher (Moustakas, 1990b:9, as cited in Patton; 2002b).  The second type is a transcendental phenomenological approach that involves the researcher bracketing themselves through acknowledging their experiences with the phenomenon under investigation (Creswell, 2013). However, after a careful analysis of the method, I came to the conclusion that a phenomenological study was not the best for my research question because my sample size was too low and also I was relying on a single method for data collection which is not advisable for a phenomenological study. To conduct a well-rounded phenomenological study, a number of data collection methods such as surveys, observations, journaling, and photographs need to be used.

I then turned to a mixed method approach. A mixed method study uses both qualitative and quantitative research designs. In the 1990’s, mixed method study design gained popularity (Creswell, 2011). Green, Caracelli & Graham (1989) define a mixed method study as “research in which an investigator collects and analyzes data, integrates findings, and draws inferences using both qualitative and quantitative  approaches  or methods in a single study or program of inquiry” (p.20). According to Creswell (2011) mixed method study increases the breadth and depth of the research findings. Using more than one research method can also help corroborate the study findings, ensuring the findings have a stronger validity. To use a mixed method design, Creswell (2011) suggests that the research questions must include both quantitative and qualitative elements. It is important that the formulated questions address both the needs for a quantitative and a qualitative study design. Again, after a careful examination of the method and the question, I realize that my questions did not match well with the mixed method design.

While examining a possible method to capture teachers’ experience with virtual labs, narrative inquiry emerged slowly but surely as the best method for capturing teachers’ experience with virtual labs and identifying the practical knowledge inherent in these experiences. Narrative inquiry emerged as a new research method in social research in the 1980s (Clandinin & Connely, 1990). In 1986, Clandinin and Connelly experimented with narratives as an alternative way of representing experience in graduate courses at Ontario Institute of Studies (OISE). According to Clandinin & Connelly (2000), an individual’s story should be considered as a source of phenomenon and method. Atkins (1995) pointed to two advantages of using narrative inquiry. First, the story creating process is similar to the self-reflection process, thus, helps to expand experiences. Second, developing stories helps to connect a person to the human experience through narratives. Therefore, narrative inquiry can be used to gather personal and practical experiences and knowledge and to share them with the community.

Data Collection

This study takes place in a high school environment in an upper income suburban neighborhood in the Southeastern United States. I purposely chose my two participants for the following reasons. First, I wanted them to have different levels of teaching experience.  My first participant was a new teacher (two years teaching experience) who had limited experience with virtual labs. Thus, I chose her because I wanted to understand and chronicle new teachers’ experiences with virtual lab usage in the science classroom. The other participant was a veteran teacher with more than 15 years of teaching experience. I wanted to interview him because I wanted to gain deeper insights into the use of virtual labs by an experienced teacher.  The second reason for choosing these two teachers was a matter of personal convenience.  The participants and I work in the same hallway and have the same planning period; therefore, I have easy access to them.

I used the life story narrative to elucidate the personal practical experiences of my teacher participants. I took the life story approach because I believe each and every one of us has his or her story to tell.  I interviewed each participant for approximately 15 minutes in their classroom using a semi-structured interview guide.  I began with an open-ended question followed by a probing question whenever necessary to gain a deeper conversation of the participant’s experiences.  Even-though I had developed structured and open-ended questions for the interviews, I conducted the interviews mainly as conversations. The reason for choosing a conversational approach rather than a direct interview approach is that probing is most effective when it takes place in the form of a conversation (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000).  Since I was using only a single method of data collection and a small sample of interviewees, I decided to record the interviews so I did not miss any relevant information and so I could produce a verbatim transcript for analysis. I used my IPad to record the interviews with the permission of each participant.  I received human subject approval in September of 2013 and conducted both interviews in October 2013. The open-ended questions used for this study are presented below:

  1. Tell me about your educational and professional background.
    • Probe: How did you become an educator?
  2. What is your teaching philosophy?
  3. How do virtual labs fit within this philosophy?
  4. How did you learn about virtual labs?
  5. When did you start using them?
  6. Why did you decide to use virtual labs in your classroom?
  7. What do you see as barriers and benefits to using virtual labs with your students?
  8. What adaptations (if any) did you make to ensure that all students in your class benefit from virtual labs?

Data Analysis

            After I conducted and recorded the interviews, I attempted to analyze the data through first listening and transcribing the interviews. To better understand the stories, I used the restoring or retelling method to reconstruct the participants’ stories as they were told to me during the interview. I identified and interpreted the major themes such as technology-related problems, when to use virtual labs, when not to use them, and in what instances they most benefit students’ understanding.  I then wrote summary statements for each of the identified themes using the information from the participants’ interviews.  Participants’ narratives are presented in Chapter Four and the conclusions and recommendations resulting from the research findings are presented in Chapter Five.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

TEACHER STORIES

In this chapter, I examine each participant’s experience with virtual labs using a story-telling or retelling approach of the narrative inquiry methodology. I begin with a description of the classroom environment followed by narratives from each participant’s interview. In Chapter Five, I examine the data and offer analysis and interpretation. I then, conclude the chapter with conclusions and recommendations for future studies. What is presented here is a verbatim transcript of the participants’ own words. To the best of my ability, I refrained from adding any of my comments or additions to this transcript. However, I sometimes use my own words to help create smooth transitions, where necessary. Note that the names used below are pseudonyms to protect the confidentiality of the participants.

Mr. Physics Jones’s Class

            Mr. Physics Jones is 37-year old, white male who teaches physics and chemistry at the suburban high school. He has 13 years of teaching experience and has been with the science department for 10 years. Prior to working with this department, Mr. Jones worked for a private Christian high school for three years. Mr. Jones is a highly qualified teacher in the broad science category, but specializes in teaching Advanced Placement Physics and general chemistry.

            My classroom is located next to Mr. Jones’ classroom. We normally have lengthy conversations about teaching physics and chemistry. We also share a stock room for chemicals and laboratory equipment that we use to teach chemistry and physics. In his spare time, Mr. Jones likes to run. He is the head coach for the school’s running team. His team has won numerous awards including State championships and zonal championships.

            Mr. Jones’ classroom is very orderly. The classroom is arranged into eight two rows with eight lab desks. He has a promethean board, LCD projector, laptops, and a student response system that he uses on a daily basis. Mr. Jones also has five computers in the back of his classroom that are connected to the internet. Mr. Jones’ students are very diverse with a variety of racial and ethnic groups represented. His students also come from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. His classes contain a fairly even gender distribution.

Mr. Jones’s Experience with Virtual Labs

Mr. Jones has aBachelor’s degree in environmental engineering and chemistry. He also has a Master’s of Arts degree in teaching with a specialty in chemistry education. Mr. Jones worked as a research technician for the state of North Carolina and he is now teaching. He decided to become a teacher because he thought his skills would be better utilized in educating the kids (children) of America. Mr. Jones teaching philosophy is a triangle between the teachers, parents, and the students.

Mr. Jones feels that virtual labs give the kids a tool to explore the topic more on their own. He also feels that virtual labs form a good substitute when the student is absent. If a kid is absent, virtual labs serves as the lab.  Virtual labs also serve as the alternative when we don’t have the funds for the lab equipment or chemicals. Mr. Jones mentioned that he did not receive any professional development regarding the effective use of virtual labs. He learned how to use virtual labs through trial and error. Mr. Jones sees the barriers of virtual labs as that students don’t see the true results of what’s happening. They are pre-programmed and therefore devoid of real life experiences. Another barrier to virtual labs is that students tend to copy from each other without engaging themselves in the actual learning activity. In addition, virtual labs offer the same results, so it’s hard to talk about real life errors (e.g. experimental errors) that often occur during real life experiments.

Mr. Jones sees the benefits of virtual labs as that they can be accessed anywhere at any time. Another benefit of virtual labs is that there is no preparation time for the teacher. In addition, virtual labs are useful at substituting instruction especially when the equipment is too expensive. Mr. Jones uses several adaptations to make sure that all students in his class benefit from virtual labs. First, he discuss the lab with students ahead of time. Second, he does a demo for the class before-hand. Third, Mr. Jones does group discussions to enhance student understanding of concepts covered in the virtual labs session.

Ms. Biology Tanisha

            Ms. Biology Tanisha is a 34-year old black female who teaches general biology in the science department. She has two years of teaching experience and has been with the science department for one year. Ms. Tanisha is a highly qualified teacher in the broad science category, but, specializes to teach general biology. She explained her experience with virtual labs in her classroom during the interview.

            Ms. Tanisha’s classroom is very orderly. The classroom is arranged into two rows with eight lab desks. She has a promethean board, LCD projector, a laptop cart, and student response systems that she uses often. Ms. Tanisha also has five computers in the back of her classroom that are connected to the internet. The students in Ms. Tanisha’s classroom, like those in Mr. Jones’ class, are very diverse in terms of race and socio-economic status.  Her class also has an even distribution of boys and girls. 

 

 

Ms. Tanisha’s Experiences with Virtual Labs

Ms. Tanisha has a bachelor degree in education. She became a certified teacher two years ago. She decided to become a teacher for four reasons.  She is a people person.  She likes showing children the different ways to learn. She likes to give back to the community and she thinks that there are not enough people in the world who want to teach but just want to be a part of something so that they can get vacation time. She wants to give back and show why having a good education is important. She says that growing up, even though her mom and her relatives were educators, she never saw the importance of going home and studying or doing what she was supposed to do. As such her GPA after she graduated high school was below a 2.0 and she actually flunked out of college twice. The third time she went back, including grad school, her GPA was well above a 3.0. She learned the importance of an education but it took her awhile and now she’s at a point in her life that she wants to give back and to show why it’s important to be educated.

Ms. Tanisha’s teaching philosophy is every child can learn, however, not every child can learn the same way. She believes that teachers need to engage all students individually if possible throughout the week. To continually communicate with your students so you know where they are. She also believes that it is up to the teacher to actually engage each one of their students so that they can learn. In addition, Ms. Tanisha feels that virtual labs are good because the teacher has the ability to rewind as opposed to doing a lab in class step one, step two and typically you don’t even have the resources to go back and see where did I get this from? Virtual labs are good for proofing one’s work because of the ability to go back and check where the information came from.

Ms. Tanisha went to the Explore Learning workshop last year where she learned that a teacher had the ability to add to the labs everything he/she needs to engage students in their learning. She feels that the workshop she attended last year was beneficial in making the labs better. It helped her in different ways as far as getting the concepts across to her students. Ms. Tanisha sees the only barrier to virtual labs is that some students are not as engaged as others.  She feels as though these students would prefer hands on labs rather than virtual ones. In addition, some students just don’t want to do the lab because it does not fit their learning style. Ms. Tanisha recognizes several benefits for using virtual labs in the science classroom. First, virtual labs offer the ability to go back and redo the labs up to a certain degree. Second, students have to follow directions and engage themselves in the lab and learn at their own pace. Third, she thinks students learn more because virtual labs follow the learner centered approach.

Ms. Tanisha uses various adaptations to make sure that all students in her class benefit from virtual labs. She walks around and talks to students often to make sure they understand the lab. She checks for understanding and engagement by communicating with each student on a regular basis.

Summary

In this chapter, I presented participants’ narratives. In Chapter Five, complete data analysis, discussions, conclusions, and recommendations for future research will be presented.

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 5

DATA ANALYSIS, CONCLUSION, AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH

In this chapter, I first analyze the data, then, I present the conclusions of the study, and finally, I present my recommendations for future research. 

Data Analysis and Conclusion

Narrative inquiry was used in this study to shed light on the practical experiences that teachers have when using virtual labs with their students. The purpose of the study was to identify personal and practical experiences that teachers have when using virtual labs in their science classrooms. After reading and re-reading the transcripts from the interviews, I identified two characteristics that were shared by both teachers – a love of teaching and a belief that all children can learn.  In addition, I identified several best practices that these participants had used to maximize the success of virtual labs in their classrooms: (1) pre-lab discussions, often with a demonstration, (2) post-lab discussions where students’ questions were answered, (3) regular monitoring during lab sessions to check student understanding and engagement, and (4) receiving proper training on how to effectively use virtual labs as a teaching tool.

Love of Teaching

            Both participants expressed their love for teaching during the interview. I realize that teaching is not a get rich and/or money making profession. Mr. Jones is an environmental engineer. He has many job options, but, he choose to share his knowledge and engineering skills with the children of America. In addition, Ms. Tanisha spoke of her love of teaching very explicitly during the interview. She shared with me that she was a “people person” and loved to show students different ways to learn.

The Belief That All Children Can Learn

            The saying that all children can learn has been used in many educational articles and books. In many settings, this saying has become a cliché.  During my interview with both participants, I genuinely felt that these teachers believed what they were saying. Ms. Tanisha said “all children can learn, but, differently.” It is true that all children can learn. This is especially true when the needs of each of the student are met. For example, each child comes to class with his or her own capability, learning preferences, and world view. If these needs are not met by the teacher, some children will be left behind and deemed to be incapable of learning. Therefore, according to the participants, it is crucial to meet each individual child wherever they are and to help them to achieve success in learning. This will boost their confidence to learn.

Pre-Lab Discussions

            Since virtual labs are somewhat different than hands-on and real life experiments, it is paramount that teachers discuss the lab before students actually do the lab. This will improve student understanding by activating their prior knowledge and by making them ready to learn. Mr. Jones normally discusses the lab before students begin doing the lab. It is a good practice as it helps iron-out student misunderstandings and reduces the amount of questions that students may have during the lab session. Once students know what to do and how to do it, completing the lab becomes easier for them and they are more likely to learn from it. Therefore, Mr. Jones and Ms. Tanisha employ the pre-lab discussion to help their students understand what the lab is all about and how to complete it.

Post-Lab Discussions and Regular Monitoring during Lab Sessions

Mr. Jones discussed the use of post-lab discussions as an important tool for effective use of virtual labs with students in science. Once students have completed their virtual lab sessions, it is important to have a discussion regarding the concept or concepts covered. This is important because it helps students to consolidate what they have learned. It also helps the teacher to assess what students have learned and what topics may need further discussion. I concur with Mr. Jones’s views on this, I believe that post-lab discussions are crucial for helping student re-evaluate their understanding of the lab and also to receive confirmation regarding their understanding. Post-lab discussions also offer students the opportunity to explain and reflect on their understanding of the concept covered by the lab and to ask any clarifying questions.  In addition, both participants mentioned the importance of circulating throughout the classroom while students are completing the lab to monitor their understanding and to make sure they remain engaged in the task. This also allows students the opportunity to ask questions as they are completing the lab so that they are able to successfully complete all their assigned tasks.  Teachers can also monitor their progress and provide one-on-one guidance as needed.

The Importance of Proper Training

            Lack of proper training was one issue raised by the participants during the interviews. It is quite obvious that in the absence of training, things tend not to work as effectively as they should. This applies to virtual labs as well. Ms. Tanisha discussed a two day training she received on how to effectively use virtual labs. In my view, in-service training is needed for teachers to help them understand how to best use virtual labs in their classrooms. School districts’ tend to buy these programs with little or no emphasis placed on training teachers how to use the programs. Mr. Jones reports that he never received any formal training on how to use virtual labs. He trained himself through trial and error. Allowing teachers to train themselves on the effective use of virtual labs with their students is not a good practice. Teachers should be trained to use technology properly in order to increase student engagement and academic achievement.

Recommendations for Future Research

            This study was centered on two research participants’ practical and personal experiences with virtual labs. Six themes emerged from the interviews with research participants. The emerged themes include: (1) love of teaching, (2) the belief that all children can learn, (3) pre-lab discussions, (4) post-lab discussions, (5) regular monitoring during lab sessions, and (6) the importance of proper training. As discussed in the study results and discussion, these themes have direct implications for the effective use of virtual labs in science classrooms. In order to validate the results from this study, additional research with more teachers from different settings is needed.  For example, studies with teachers from middle school science or other high school science setting would be desirable. In addition, the questions used to capture teachers’ practical experiences with virtual labs in this study were not very focused. Therefore, studies with more focused questions on this matter are needed to capture the essence of these practical experiences. Finally, I realize that one’s cultural background influences one’s experiences.  My background, cultural experiences, and world view may have affected the way I analyzed the data. Therefore, research done by people with different cultural and background experiences are warranted.

           

           

 

 

 

 

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