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Microcomputer-based labs, the use of real-time data capture and display in teaching, give the learner new ways to explore and understand the world. As this book shows, the international effort over a quarter-century to develop and understand microcomputer-based labs (MBL) has resulted in a rich array of innovative implementations and some convincing evidence for the value of computers for learning. The book is a sampler of MBL work by an outstanding international group of scientists and educators, based on papers they presented at a seminar held as part of the NATO Special Programme on Advanced Educational Technology. The story they tell of the development of MBL offers valuable policy lessons on how to promote educational innovation. The book will be of interest to a wide range of educators and to policy makers.





The idea of computers in the lab is nothing new to scientists. Almost all research has come to rely on computers to control experiments, to collect data, to represent the data in visual forms such as graphs, and to extract trends and summary information from the sometimes huge amounts of data. In addition, the same computers are often used to explore mathematical models and compare these models to the observed data. The importance of doing this in the lab as the experiment is underway — in “real time” — has obvious advantages for repeating suspect results or quickly following up unexpected leads. In fact, the first personal computer may have been the 1960’s era Digital Equipment Corporation’s PDP-8L, where the “L” indicates that it was optimized for laboratory use in recognition of the importance of having realtime data acquisition and analysis capacity in the lab. Many of the first users of this capacity were experimental physicists who tended to be quite comfortable with the use of electronics, sensors, and instruments in their research.
Robert F. Tinker



1. From Separation to Partnership in Science Education: Students, Laboratories, and the Curriculum

This paper examines the role of the science laboratory in science learning. By examining historical views of students, laboratories, and the curriculum, it describes growing understanding of the context in which science laboratories are likely to be effective.
Historically, those concerned with laboratories in science have gone from “separation” to “partnership.” Separation characterizes early interest in science education because the various individuals concerned with science education worked separately. Initially, curriculum materials were developed primarily by natural scientists. For example, Millikan (1906) wrote a precollege physics textbook. At the same time, precollege educators who utilized those textbooks had little interaction with those who created the textbooks. Laboratories played many roles, ranging from vocational to motivational.
The period starting in the 1950s is characterized by the interaction between those concerned with science education, especially natural scientists and precollege professionals. Recently, a number of partnerships have been formed that involve experts in all areas concerned with science education. These partnerships are particularly apparent in efforts to incorporate Microcomputer Based Laboratories (MBLs) into the curriculum. Modern partnerships typically involve experts in natural science, experts in technology, expert precollege professionals, and leaders in pedagogy.
Initially, researchers compared laboratories to demonstrations and, for many goals, found no advantage for student-conducted investigations. In the 1960s natural scientists, inspired by Bruner and Piaget, designed laboratories to engage students in active learning. Students could conduct experiments like scientists. These experiences motivated students but did not necessarily contribute to understanding of science. Recently, MBLs have added the tools of scientists to the laboratory. Projects involving partnerships with science teachers, cognitive scientists, natural scientists, and technology experts have designed laboratories that engage students in knowledge integration. In partnership projects the goal of emulating the experiences of research scientists by providing a science laboratory is often realized. Students participate in a community of investigators, use powerful scientific tools, and investigate problems of their own choosing.
The trend from separation to partnership has been gradual. Naturally, there are examples of interactions and partnerships throughout the history of science education. Yet the predominant early theme was separation, and an emerging theme is partnership. The separation period continued to about 1950. The interaction period predominated from 1950 to 1975. The partnership period began to emerge in the late 1970s (for further discussion, see Linn, Songer, & Eylon, in press).
Although these trends are apparent in many science topic areas, this paper takes examples from physical science, since MBLs have been used most extensively there. Many of the comments and examples from the physical sciences apply to other sciences, although unique aspects of other sciences also deserve scrutiny.
Marcia C. Linn

2. Trends and Techniques in Computer-Based Educational Simulations: Applications to MBL Design

Computer-based educational simulations are seen as a subset of the larger set of instructional approaches whose goal is to help learners come to a better understanding of real, complex systems. In this paper, a conceptualization is developed for the domain “understanding complex systems” and within this, a scheme is offered whereby computer simulations are considered relative to interrelated cognitive and instructional aspects. Techniques and trends in simulations relative to visualization, interactivity, and intelligence are discussed within the framework of the scheme. The relationship between microcomputer-based laboratory environments and computer-based simulations in science education is considered, as well as the emergence of MMLs—multimedia laboratories. MBLs and MMLs are compared with respect to the trends of visualization, interactivity, and intelligence as a way of identifying common aspects with simulations in science education. Promising directions for improving the effectiveness of both MBLs and simulations are suggested.
Betty Collis, Ivan Stanchev

3. MBL, MML and the Science Curriculum—Are We Ready for Implementation?

In this paper dilemmas are raised concerning the development and implementation of microcomputer-based laboratories (MBL) and multimedia laboratories (MML) in science education for students in the age range 12–18 years old. Our purpose in doing this is to initiate a discussion on the advantages of MBL and MML in science education. Recent trends in science curricula show various areas where MBL and MML could contribute to improve science education. Any evidence of advantage should be a basis for subsequent curriculum development and educational research.
Ard Hartsuijker, Yael Friedler, Frits Gravenberch



4. Using Large-Scale Classroom Research to Study Student Conceptual Learning in Mechanics and to Develop New Approaches to Learning

Microcomputer-based laboratory (MBL) tools and guided discovery curricula have been developed as an aid to all students, including the underprepared and underserved, in learning physical concepts. To guide this development, extensive work has been done to find useful measures of students’ conceptual understanding that can be used in widely varying contexts. This paper focuses primarily on the evaluation of student conceptual understanding of mechanics (kinematics and dynamics) with an emphasis on Newton’s 1st and 2nd laws in introductory courses in the university. Student understanding of mechanics is looked at before and after traditional instruction. It is examined before and after MBL curricula that are consciously designed to promote active and collaborative learning by students. The results show that the majority of students have difficulty learning essential physical concepts in the best of our traditional courses where students read textbooks, solve textbook problems, listen to well-prepared lectures, and do traditional laboratory activities. Students can, however, learn these fundamental concepts using MBL curricula and Interactive Lecture Demonstrations which have been based on extensive classroom research. Substantial evidence is given that student answers to the short answer questions in the Tools for Scientific Thinking Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation provide a useful statistical means of evaluating student beliefs and understandings about mechanics. Evidence for the hierarchical learning of velocity, acceleration, and force concepts is presented.
Ronald K. Thornton

5. A New Mechanics Case Study: Using Collisions to Learn about Newton’s Third Law

Several researchers have reported on conceptual difficulties students encounter in the study of Newton’s Laws, especially Newton’s Third Law. This paper describes a project to restructure the introductory physics mechanics curriculum to present Newton’s Laws in a more logical sequence. This curriculum is based on the use of direct experience coupled with Microcomputer-Based Laboratory (MBL) tools. This paper gives particular attention to the sequence of learning experiences developed to improve student understanding of Third Law concepts applied to collision processes. The results of pre- and post-testing show significant gains in student ability to apply the Third Law to different types of interactions.
Priscilla W. Laws

6. Teaching Electric Circuit Concepts Using Microcomputer-Based Current/Voltage Probes

A number of researchers have reported on the difficulties students have with simple electric circuit concepts. This paper reports on the use of microcomputer-based Current/Voltage probes in conjunction with a highly interactive Electric Circuit curriculum to teach these concepts in the introductory college physics laboratory. An Electric Circuit Conceptual Evaluation has been developed and has been used to assess student understanding of circuit concepts. The results of pre- and post-testing show dramatic gains in student understanding of current and voltage in simple series and parallel direct current circuits1.
David R. Sokoloff

7. Learning and Teaching Motion: MBL Approaches

This paper deals with some MBL approaches to teaching/learning motion, mainly kinematics, in different school contexts. The key lines of the proposed pedagogical interventions, inspired by Open Environment Approaches, are described. The interventions refer to Secondary School Physics and Mathematics courses (14–16 year old students); University Introductory Physics Courses for physics majors (18–20 years); and activities for classes visiting a Laboratory for Science Education. The rationale is the same for all age groups, the depth of analysis being different. The contexts, contents and settings are briefly described, together with some examples of the learning activities. Positive global results indicate that open MBL approaches can introduce significant innovative changes in the teaching/learning process of the addressed content area.
Elena Sassi, Emilio Balzano

8. A Study of Pupils’ Skills of Graphical Interpretation with Reference to the Use of Data-Logging Techniques

This paper considers the role of graphs in science education and examines the skills required by pupils in interpreting graphs to gain scientific understanding. Some common difficulties in graphical techniques are discussed and the opportunities for overcoming these and for amplifying the value of graphs through the use of the microcomputer are described.
Laurence T. Rogers

9. On Ways of Symbolizing: The Case of Laura and the Velocity Sign

This case study focuses on how a high school student, Laura, learned the meaning of the velocity sign. By moving a toy car she created many real-time graphs on a computer screen. The study strives to show that her learning was not just an acknowledgment of a rule, but a broad questioning and revision of her thinking about graphs and motion. Laura’s process exemplifies what is involved in the learning of a way of symbolizing situations of physical change.
Ricardo Nemirovsky

10. Microcomputer-Based Laboratories in Inquiry-Based Science Education—An Implementation Perspective

In the Experimental School Project, schools for secondary education cooperate with a research institute on the theme of computer use in education. The schools participating in the project (two in the eastern part of the Netherlands and one in the central part) are provided with computer and manpower facilities. The project started in 1987 and continued until 1993. Within the setting of this project several research studies were carried out.
Joke M. Voogt

MBL and Learning


11. Computer Modelling for the Young—and Not So Young—Scientist

The laboratory is the natural home for the teaching of science where the real world can be formalised and controlled. Here, data gathering processes, now greatly enhanced by the use of the microcomputer, can reveal patterns and relationships demanding explanations and enabling models to be created which will lead to a greater understanding of phenomena. There is a need for a constant interaction between the roles which students adopt as experimentalists and as theorists. We argue here that computers have an important role in supporting theory-building by students. Exploring the consequences of theories is something which it is unrealistic to expect many students to be able to do without the help of the computer. The use of the computer as a modelling tool is thus a desirable means of complementing the careful measurement, observation and evidence gathering which characterise the Microcomputer-Based Laboratory (MBL). The effective integration of modelling within the context of MBL will be discussed.
We can develop explanations by creating models in a variety of ways. A model may be created as a set of quantitative relationships between the system variables, or a phenomena may be modelled through making visual representations of variables and indicating possible interactions between variables in a qualitative way. A third possibility we can explore is to model not through variables at all but through representations of objects and events. These three contrasting approaches to modelling will be discussed and illustrated by referring to examples of software which make this possible. These different approaches to modelling will be discussed in the historic order of the software development and references will be limited to examples of software which are familiar to the authors as developers and users. Readers viewing the discussion from another perspective may be aware of other examples of relevant software.
Leslie Beckett, Richard Boohan

12. Computer Applications in Physics: The Integration of Information Technology in the Physics Curriculum

There is a growing interest in using MBL and modelling tools to support research activities in the classroom. One of the major challenges is to create the conditions for pupils to do science; to give them the opportunity to formulate (at least partly) their own theories, to build and validate their own models. Possible results of these activities are the excitement of scientific discovery, the feeling that ‘understanding the complex world’ is a puzzle which can be solved, leading to a better understanding of the scientific approach.
To do this, the availability of user friendly tools is important, but not sufficient. Pupils need laboratory techniques and modelling skills, and need to have some basic knowledge of system properties (hardware). We cannot just presume the existence of such techniques, skills and knowledge. They have to be taught!
In this paper we report on a project which aims to integrate the subject ‘computer applications in scientific research’ into the traditional physics curriculum of secondary schools. In section 12.1 we review the history of the project. In section 12.2 we discuss the aims and contents of the course. In section 12.3 we discuss the implementation, and in section 12.4 we consider the first results of classroom experiments.
C. de Beurs, A. L. Ellermeijer

13. Global Lab: From Classroom Labs to Real-World Research Labs

The Global Laboratory Project combines several innovations in science education to create a community of students, teachers, scientists, engineers and educators investigating local and global environmental change. A key goal of the project is to extend the investigative scope of a science class from the classroom laboratory to research problems in the real world. To do this, the project focuses on a topic of interest to many students: the environment. We use a curricular model of project-based science along with telecomputing and innovative instrumentation to facilitate teacher and student entry into real-world research. We have expanded microcomputer-based laboratories (MBL) to include remote data collection capabilities along with low-cost adaptations of state-of-the-art instrumentation. In this fertile mix of methods and resources, students share data, reports, and analyses about investigations that matter to them, and in doing so, learn how to use the tools and techniques of scientific research.
Stephen Bannasch, Boris Berenfeld

14. Dynamic Physical Representation of Real Experiments

With adequate software, computer-supported experiments can provide important experiences for the student. The learner can test, question and even correct his/her own physical concepts, while the teacher may only provide some assistance. By coding experimental results using a suitable but simple notation, connections to existing ideas can easily be established. For example, vectors, arrows and rays are examples of notations that can be comprehended more directly and easily than graphs. Instead of “reading” a graph the student has to comprehend an ideogrammatically represented process. This process can, by a sequence of pictures, be directly related to the inner picture of the course of the experiment. In contrast to the textbook, which only offers one single static representation of the course of the experiment, the computer can show the transformation into a dynamic physical representation in parallel to the actual progress of the experiment.
This supports the crucial direct comprehension of physical concepts and ideas. Such a system paves the way for new exciting didactic possibilities for teaching. This paper illustrates some of these possibilities by using the open PACMA-System1 to analyse different types of motions and capacitor charging and discharging. These examples show an additional learning step facilitated by the system: not only are the qualitative connections better comprehended by the dynamic physical representation, but this representation also simplifies the necessary transition to working with the graph as a more precise instrument for analysis by simultaneously providing both representations.
D. Heuer

15. Changing Misconceptions Through MBL—A Concept for Lab-Sessions

Students’ difficulties in solving qualitative problems are well known. Obviously students aren’t sufficiently required to use qualitative argumentation in problem solving. Lab experiments offer various possibilities to enhance the understanding of physics if we are willing to radically change the goals of these experiments. Instead of experiments emphasizing measurements we need experiments emphasizing conceptual understanding. By using the computer for the recording and analysis of the measured data the student can then concentrate on applying his/her physical ideas to predict and interpret the course of the experiment and in case of unexpected events, to test his/her own conclusions and concepts. For the example of the gravitational pendulum ten problems are proposed which require the student to work intensively on parts of these problems which include everything from the observation and analysis of motions, to an energy balance, and finally the modelling of non-harmonic oscillations. This requires an open software and hardware system which can be used by the students throughout the problem-solving process and teachers willing to go into more open problems.
Dieter Heuer

16. Teaching Mechanics Through Interactive Video and a Microcomputer-Based Laboratory

The topic of mechanics has been taught in a secondary school in Amsterdam by a method which starts from students’ real-life experiences and uses Interactive Video and a Microcomputer-Based Laboratory (IV/MBL). Student responses were found to be appreciative and their results in tests showed a considerably better grasp of basic mechanics concepts than for comparable students taught by more traditional methods.
A. L. Ellermeijer, B. Landheer, P. P. M. Molenaar

17. Wanting to Know: Interactive Video Providing the Context for Microcomputer-Based Laboratories

Human beings seem to be naturally curious about the world around them. They seem to want to understand the world and to feel at home in the universe. Our most effective physics courses are those that engage this intrinsic interest of human beings in the world around them. Interactive video can be used to bring this world into our physics classrooms and provide a context for microcomputer-based laboratories.
Robert G. Fuller

Hardware and Software Systems


18. The Development of a Communication Protocol for School Science Laboratory Equipment

This paper contains the conclusions of a series of seminars involving leading UK manufacturers of school science laboratory equipment and science curriculum developers (referred to below as the Educational Data Monitoring and Control Group, EDM&CG, a list of whose members is shown in Appendix 1). These seminars were initiated at Homerton College, Cambridge, England in 1988 and have continued with a frequency of two or three per year ever since. Since 1990 the seminars have been sponsored by the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET), a non-departmental government body. The objective of the seminars is to review the progress taking place in the development and use of microelectronic based data capture equipment for classroom science activities.
Angela E. McFarlane, David S. C. Thompson

19. Software: Integration, Collaboration, Standards, Progress

Any discussion of the software standards for microcomputer-based laboratories (MBL) must take into account the proliferation of technological tools for use in physics. Among these are: spreadsheet physics, microcomputer-based laboratories, programming for problem solving, videotapes, videodiscs, CD-ROMs, simulations, symbolic mathematics, and modeling [1]. We must avoid the trap of becoming “the person with a hammer to whom all things look like a nail.”
Jack M. Wilson

20. IP-Coach—A Useful Tool for Universities in Developing Countries

At the end of the 1980s, in view of its potential benefits, we decided to pilot the science interfacing package IP-Coach in some of our educational development cooperation projects. IP-Coach runs under MS-DOS and transforms an IBM-compatible microcomputer—equipped with a special interface board (UIB-board)—into a versatile measuring instrument.
V. J. Dorenbos, G. H. Dulfer

21. The CALIOPE: A Computer-Assisted Laboratory Instrument Oriented to Physics Education

We are developing a learning environment for the physics didactic laboratory at different educational levels. The core is based on a computer-assisted workbench. Using a modular and expandable design, we have built some probes, and are developing others, for different phenomena: light, sound, magnetic field, nuclear radiation, etc. These probes are connectable to an MS-DOS computer. The end-user interface is based on Object Oriented Programming (OOP). This methodology allows a quick development of general purpose instruments (timers, data loggers, etc.) or the elaboration of specific applications. The acquired data could always be analysed through a standard program such as a spreadsheet. This approach is being used in teaching mechanics and electromagnetism to Physics university students at an introductory level, and we are extending the environment to the basic and secondary school.1
A. M. Gonçalves, A. A. Melo

22. Bremer Interface System: Didactic Guidelines for a Universal, Open, and User-friendly MBL System

The “Bremer Interface System” (BIS) is an integrated MBL-environment for high-school physics. The system consists of a versatile hardware adapter, graphics-oriented data-logging software and a science spreadsheet. Special features of the system are universality, i.e., applicability over a wide variety of contexts; openness, i.e., user-control for context-free configuration; and user-friendliness, realized by a direct manipulation, graphical interface. This paper explains the didactic guidelines and shows some applications.1
Horst P. Schecker

23. Some Experiments in Physics Education: Using a Force Sensor Connected to a Computer

A data collecting and handling system called “The Measuring Tool” is used in physics education at many Swedish secondary schools (“gymnasium”). It was developed at the Institute of Technology at Jönköping University. The system is used with IBM PC and compatible computers. It consists of a 12-bit AD-converter card that is mounted inside the computer, an interface box and software. Data collection can be performed in two channels. The maximum sampling rate is 70,000 per second, sufficient for sound studies, for instance. The ADC card also contains digital I/O for the connection of lightgates, a GM counter or a stepper motor. The software is menu driven and very easy to handle. The collected data are presented in tables and diagrams. Different standard mathematical functions can be fit to the points in a diagram by the method of least-squares. There is also a modelling routine so that recorded data may be compared with a mathematical model. Numerical integration and derivation can be performed as well. For use with “The Measuring Tool” lightgates and sensors for force, magnetic flux, pressure, sound, temperature, etc., have been developed. The force sensor has proved to be especially useful, and a short description of the force sensor and a few examples of its use are given below.
Örjan Nilsson

24. Microcomputer-Based Laboratories at A. Mickiewicz University

A brief history of teaching of computer science and application of microcomputers for educational purposes in general high schools and at universities is given.
One of the on-line experiments (thermal conduction study) prepared for university student laboratories is discussed. The information on Microcomputer-Based Laboratories (MBLs) organized at A. Mickiewicz University within the MAPETT-TEMPUS project is included and ways of using MBL in the education of physicists and physics teachers are proposed. A few interesting experiments designed to be performed in MBLs are presented.
Henryk Szydlowski

25. Microcomputer-Based Laboratory—The Observation of Light Diffraction and Interference Patterns

This article illustrates the use of a lab computer for MBL modelling and observation of light diffraction and interference patterns.
Ewa Mioduszewska


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