Comparing and combining real and virtual experimentation: an effort to enhance students' conceptual understanding of electric circuits


Zacharias C. Zacharia, Learning in Science Group, Department of Educational Sciences, University of Cyprus, PO Box 20537, Nicosia 1678, Cyprus. Email:


Abstract  The purpose of this study was to investigate value of combining Real Experimentation (RE) with Virtual Experimentation (VE) with respect to changes in students' conceptual understanding of electric circuits. To achieve this, a pre–post comparison study design was used that involved 88 undergraduate students. The participants were randomly assigned to an experimental (45 students) and a control group (43 students). Each group attended a one semester course in physics for preservice elementary school teachers. Both groups used the same inquiry-based curriculum materials. Participants in the control group used RE to conduct the study's experiments, whereas, participants in the experimental group used RE in the first part of the curriculum and VE in another part. Conceptual tests were administered to assess students' understanding of electric circuits before, during and after the teaching intervention. Results indicated that the combination of RE and VE enhanced students' conceptual understanding more than the use of RE alone. A further analysis showed that differences between groups on that part of the curriculum in which the experimental group used VE and the control group RE, in favour of VE.