A comparative analysis of virtual and traditional laboratory chemistry learning
Laboratory experimentation in the context of school science is a widely advocated teaching strategy for the simplification of several abstract scientific concepts. Laboratory-based learning activities have proven to enhance learners’ conceptual and procedural understandings of micro chemical phenomena, thus boosting achievement in chemistry content tests. In the South African education landscape where there is inequitable distribution of resources for laboratory-based science learning, this study exploited how available virtual learning resources could also be used for learning chemistry concepts, and further compared student achievement in chemistry content test post intervention with both traditional and virtual laboratory learning resources. In this quasi- experimental study, we provided a group of third-year pre-service science teachers (n=50) with four chemistry concepts to learn using a hands-on traditional (control group) and a virtual laboratory (experimental group) intervention. The same pre and post chemistry content test was administered to control and experimental groups of pre-service teachers (herein also referred to as students), before and after learning interventions, with the aim of assessing students’ achievements post- learning in the two different laboratory environments. Tests scores were analysed and the results of a paired-sample t-test showed a statistically significant difference between pre- and post-test results for all groups of students. Using independent sample t-tests, we further compared post-test scores for the control and experimental groups which revealed the mean post-test score of the experimental group (M = 79.36, SD = 8.306), being significantly higher than that of the control group (M = 68.72, SD = 9.076) at t (48) = 4.32, p < .01. The findings from these tests indicated that, students obtained significantly higher achievement scores post- laboratory learning interventions and that virtual laboratory interventions yielded significantly higher achievement scores than traditional laboratory interventions. Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that, laboratory learning has a positive impact on achievement in chemistry and that virtual laboratories provide a worthy complement for traditional laboratories when learning abstract and difficult chemistry concepts. Implications of these findings and some recommendations for practice and research are also discussed herein.