e-Waves and Physical Science
(under construction) are experimental sets of web-based
course materials developed in order to study the cognitive
and motivational benefits of interactive computer simulations
in science education. These materials are currently
used in the context of face-to-face instruction but
ultimately can be transformed for distance education
Traditional mathematics and science instruction
focuses heavily on symbolic manipulations, while these
materials balance more evenly four different perspectives,
symbolic, graphical, numerical, and verbal, more in
keeping with the way discipline experts work. Traditional
instruction relies on static images (blackboard or textbook
diagrams) to help students explore essentially dynamic
phenomena, e.g., concepts of instantaneous velocity
and acceleration. However, in an interactive simulation
dynamic (changing) links are available between multiple
representations of a situation. For example, the student
sees a car in motion, simultaneously witnessing the
creation of plots for position, velocity, and acceleration,
as well as tables of numeric values of these variables.
Thus, students visually assess the motion of the car
and compare their observation of speed and direction
to the slope of the position graph, to values on a velocity
graph, and to values in a table. This richer environment
can lead to a deeper conceptual understanding if sufficient
scaffolding is provided for students to learn to move
between these representations, as well as symbolic representations.
In addition, the exploratory approach built into these
materials inculcates the method of scientific inquiry.
Students learn to formulate hypotheses, test hypotheses
and draw conclusions, all of which are required for
subsequent careers in science or engineering.
In traditional instruction feedback is
mostly summative, general rather than personal, and
occurs after the process of learning has taken place.
Our interactive simulations have a built in feedback
mechanism that both informs students, and their instructors,
about students’ individual successes. It is important
to note that this feedback is provided during the learning
process, and so can redirect efforts that are going
One particular problem with the integration
of technology into education is the existing barriers
blocking widespread use by teachers accustomed to traditional
instruction. Many teachers are unskilled in the use
of computers, and hence uncomfortable with involving
their use in classroom situations. Further, teachers
are most effective when they have ownership of the approach
taken in exposing students to curricular materials.
Most commercially available materials (websites accompanying
textbooks) do not permit teachers to carry out modification.
WebCal, Webmechanics, e-Waves, and Physical Science
are structured so that teachers only require moderate
skills (e.g., word processing) to modify the structure
and approach to their liking.
For further information
Resources at Vanier College
Use student as both username
and password to enter materials (note that the word
“student” must be all lowercase).