Computers & Education, 86, 137-156
This study investigates student interactions with simulations, and teacher support of those interactions, within naturalistic high school classroom settings. Two lesson sequences were conducted, one in 11 and one in 8 physics class sections, where roughly half the sections used the simulations in a small group format and matched sections used them in a whole class format. Unexpected pre/post results, previously reported, had raised questions about why whole class students, who had engaged in discussion about the simulations while observing them projected in front of the class, had performed just as well as small group students with hands-on keyboards. The present study addresses these earlier results with case studies (four matched sets of classes) of student and teacher activity during class discussions in one of the lesson sequences. Comparative analyses using classroom videotapes and student written work reveal little evidence for an advantage for the small group students for any of the conceptual and perceptual factors examined; in fact, if anything, there was a slight trend in favor of students in the whole class condition. We infer that the two formats have counter-balancing strengths and weaknesses. We recommend a mixture of the two and suggest several implications for design of instructional simulations.
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