Can Computer Simulations Replace Real Equipment inUndergraduate Laboratories?

N. D. Finkelstein, K. K. Perkins, W. Adams, P. Kohl, and N. Podolefsky
University of Colorado at Boulder
Department of Physics, Campus Box 390 Boulder, CO 80309


Abstract. This paper examines the effects of substituting computer simulations in place of real laboratory equipment inthe second semester of a large-scale introductory physics course. The direct current (DC) circuit laboratory was modified to compare the effects of using computer simulations with the effects of using real light bulbs, meters andwires. Three groups of students, those who used real equipment, those who used computer simulations, and those who had no lab experience, were compared in terms of their mastery of physics concepts and skills with real equipment.Students who used the simulated equipment outperformed their counterparts both on conceptual survey of the domain and in the coordinated tasks of assembling a real circuit and describing how it worked.


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