Students' conceptual change in electricity and magnetism using simulations: A comparison of cognitive perturbation and cognitive conflict


Correspondence to: B. G. Dega; E-mail:


The purpose of this study was to investigate Ethiopian physics undergraduate students' conceptual change in the concepts of electric potential and energy (EPE) and electromagnetic induction (EMI). A quasi-experimental design was used to study the effect of cognitive perturbation using physics interactive simulations (CPS) in relation to cognitive conflict using physics interactive simulations (CCS). Data were collected by using the modified Diagnostic Exam of Electricity and Magnetism (DEEM). ANCOVA was conducted on the scores of 45 students on the modified DEEM test to compare the effectiveness of the CCS and CPS. The results showed a significant difference between the two classes of the post-test scores on the DEEM test, (1, 36) = 4.66, p = 0.04, partial eta squared = 0.12. Consequently, it was concluded that there is a statistically significant difference between CPS and CCS in changing students' alternative conceptions towards scientific conceptions favoring CPS. Medium practical difference between the two classes was estimated by the partial eta squared effect size. To characterize and compare improvement of the students' conceptual learning in both treatment classes, Hake's average normalized gain 〈g〉 from pre- to post-scores were analyzed. It is suggested that in abstract conceptual areas of electricity and magnetism, in which most students have inappropriate and counterproductive responses, cognitive perturbation through interactive simulations is more effective than cognitive conflict through interactive simulations in facilitating conceptual change, and, thus, can improve classroom instruction in the area. Recommendations are also suggested for guiding future research in this area. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach