Simulated vs. Hands-on Laboratory Position Paper
Virtual reality software has evolved to create ever more realistic virtual environments. Sophisticated virtual education laboratory experiments are now possible. Some educators and researchers question the value of hands-on laboratories relative to virtual laboratories. Researchers have investigated students’ acceptance of virtual laboratories and the relative effectiveness of virtual laboratories compared to traditional hands-on laboratories. Research results indicated that students’ attitudes toward virtual laboratory experiments are positive, and researchers found virtual laboratory experiments to be as effective as or more effective than traditional hands-on laboratories. However, researchers have not measured simulated laboratory effectiveness for all standard education laboratory goals. Simulated laboratory technology will be part of science education, but how to introduce laboratory simulations and the appropriate role for simulated laboratories remains a subject of debate. Are virtual laboratory experiments acceptable substitutes for hands-on laboratories in secondary education? To explore this question, laboratory goals and effectiveness criteria must be defined and measured for secondary education. This paper explores the goals and effectiveness of virtual and hands-on education laboratories. This paper also outlines the arguments for and against the replacement of traditional hands-on labs with simulated laboratories in secondary science education and makes a case for using laboratory simulations to supplement rather than replace traditional hands-on laboratories.