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Over the last ten years the use of information and communication
technologies (ICT) has become an important resource to schools throughout the
country and education in general. In order to understand ICT and to utilise it
to its full potential, it is important to define what ICT is. ICT is the use of
technologies that provide access to information through telecommunications
media. ICT is similar to Information Technology (IT), but focuses primarily on
communication technologies (Torres-Coronas, 2012) and has enabled education to
redefine strategies and concepts of teaching and learning (Klimova, 2012). This
has been done through enriching classrooms and learning activities,
reorganising course structures, and providing learners with more autonomous as
well as more learner focused opportunities.

Recently, the world has
experienced considerable growth, development and advancement of technology
particularly in terms of ICT. Continuous advancements in ICT not only improve
technology, but they also have the potential to enhance educational, social and
economic growth (Qaisrani and Ahmed, 2014). The integration of computers and
communications with its capacity to integrate and interact with others globally
but also in a meaningful way that enhances learning possibilities, offers
unprecedented opportunities to education (Majumdar, 2009). In recent times, the
advancements of ICT such as its ease of use, the ability and diversity of
information available allows teachers and students to have access to learning
them stems beyond the classroom environment. Furthermore, ICT has the potential
to alter learning environments, to create a new learning culture, while
providing further opportunities for learning through allowing students to
easily and efficiently access information. Incorporating ICT into classrooms
also helps students to share resources, encourage student-centred learning and
enhance critical thinking and problem solving skills.

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Research suggests that incorporating ICT into lessons has advantages for
all 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 incorporating
the use of ICT into teaching, Palak and Walls (2009) conducted a mixed study
examining whether teachers who integrate ICT into classrooms change their
perspective and practices toward a student-centred paradigm. Their results
showed that teacher practices did not change, while they also noted that
neither student-centred or teacher-centred beliefs act as predictors of
practices. Interestingly, Palak and Walls (2009) also concluded that teachers’
attitudes toward ICT significantly effect how both teacher and student use
technology, as well as the use of a variety of instructional strategies (Shan
Fo, 2013). The ever changing
educational environments, with rapidly advancing ICT, places considerable
responsibility on the teachers to provide high quality education for all
students. Adapting teaching strategies to facilitate all students is a complex
task, and teaching utilising ICT creates new demands for education (Josjo,
2012).

This study will focus on the use of virtual experiment combined with
physical experiments versus the traditional physical experiments in science
education. In order to examine this approach it is important to clarify what
virtual experiments are. According to Harry and Edward (2005) virtual experiments
defined
as “experiments without real laboratories. They enable students to link
between the theory and practice, without the need for traditional laboratory equipment.
It is a digital based programme that simulates real experiments inside the real
laboratories.” (Harry and Edward, 2005).

While both virtual and
physical experiments can achieve the learning objectives, each method provides
its own unique advantages. For example, with physical experiments students can
develop practical laboratory skills, including following protocols,
troubleshooting, and experiencing challenges that scientists face when planning
and conducting experiments that require careful setup of equipment and
observations over time (Tong de Jong et al., 2013).

Whereas an important
aspect of virtual experiments is that experiments and variables can be adapted
to promote learning of experimental processes. Virtual experiments can simplify
learning by highlighting important information while removing non-essential and
confusing details (8),
they can modify variables, such as time, quantity and concentrations and
simplify certain processes for students to understand (9).

A recent study conducted
by Zacharia and Olympiou (2011) compared learning from both physical and
virtual experiments in Physics. The study focused on a section from a Physics
by Inquiry program on heat and heat transfer. Students were randomly assigned
to one of five sections, all of which involved a 1.5-hour class taken once a
week for 15 weeks. The traditional class (control group) did not engage in any
laboratory work themselves, but instead viewed an instructor or a virtual demonstration
of the experiments. Students were exposed to all of the same information as the
other groups but did not engage in experiments. Tests were administered to
assess students’ understanding before, during and after instruction. The
analyses revealed that the four experimental conditions were equally effective
in promoting students’ understanding of concepts in the domain of heat and
temperature and better than the control condition; either physical or virtual
manipulation, ,at least in a context like the one of the present study, is
important 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/or
learner decisions or actions based on sensory cues, physical or at least a
combination of both physical and virtual learning resources would be most
appropriate.

 

Combinations of physical
and virtual experiments in science education may be beneficial for student
learning as it can utilise the advantages of both approaches. Supporting this theory
is a study conducted by Huppert et al. (31),
their results suggest that students who conduct physical laboratories alone were
less successful on a conceptual test than a group where a virtual experiment
was included for each physical laboratory session. Another study conducted by Kolloffel
and de Jong (16)
found that engineering students who did a combination of physical and virtual learning
were more successful than those doing a physical learning alone on both
conceptual and procedural knowledge of electric circuits, suggesting that this
approach 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 who
used a simulation of distillation preceding the physical laboratory and found
an advantage for the combination. Olympiou and Zacharia (30)
studied freshmen students learning about optics under three conditions: only
virtual, only physical, and a combination. Students in the combined condition
outperformed those in the physical alone and virtual alone conditions,
attesting the value of the combination over both other conditions.

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