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Published November 24, 2013 | Physics

Laboratory Procedures Taught Through an Interactive Course

A Daring Effort

In physics courses, we often make use of interactive animations. These lighthearted elements challenge students and encourage participatory learning. However, after asking students to fill out a survey, Eric learned that such activities were popular inside but not outside of the classroom. Students were not using them on an ongoing basis.

Eric realized that what such resources lacked was the possibility for teachers to track their students during the use of interactive animations and to therefore provide feedback when they were done outside of the classroom. He then decided to create a resource that would permit this called " Mesures et incertitudes en laboratoire " (Measurement and experimental uncertainty in labs").

Translating this existing course into English is a natural next step.

This idea is at the root of a daring effort to create an interactive course on a quite boring aspect of most college physics and chemistry courses, namely handling instruments to quantify objects and understanding the experimental method in the laboratory. The task was ambitious. This course would not only offer animations that could generate random self-correcting exercises but would generate a participatory environment furnishing instant responses and feedback to students. It could also allow teachers to modify the theoretical content of the course, while providing additional educational tools during lectures. To do this, he enlisted the help of Benoît Villeneuve who worked with him on the scientific review and the structure of the theoretical content of the course.

Measurement and Experimental Uncertainty in Labs

In the fall of 2012, at Cegeps Édouard-Montpetit and Ahuntsic, more than 400 students and 7 teachers tested the "Mesures et incertitudes en laboratoire" resource. This course runs on an interactive learning platform created by Eric, called Modappi. Since its debut in the fall of 2012, the amount of course content has already doubled and will be complete by winter semester 2014. On the online platform, both a student homepage and a teacher homepage are available. Students subscribe to their teacher's site account giving them access to 40 evaluations sorted by themes that serve as an introduction to the experimental method. Each evaluation has a few questions and those with interactive animations generate random self-correcting exercises. Each of these animation questions is accompanied by theory in an introductory slide which the student can consult at any time during the evaluation. If desired, the student can also print this slide.

Instrument operation simulations are also part of the assessments preparing students for the real use of these instruments to quantify objects. For example, the caliper simulation builds familiarity with this tool, which students often find difficult to use.

An example of the Introductory Slide for the course : Measurement and Experimental Uncertainty in Labs

An example of the Introductory Slide for the course: Measurement and Experimental Uncertainty in Labs

Students receive immediate feedback at each stage of the evaluation. They may also wish to repeat an exercise. The platform stores the results of all tests, allowing the teacher to see which questions are more difficult or easier, but also which students are in trouble. Students have access to the solution to their problem if, after several attempts, they haven’t arrived at the right answer. They can learn from their mistakes and redo an assessment to improve their grade and learn. Since the numerical value of each variable is always generated randomly in the animation, every answer that the student gives for each test is different.

English subtitles will appear on the bottom band of this video

This unique interactive environment is very useful! Not only can teachers keep track of student learning, but they can adjust the theoretical content of the slides to their needs and change questions before submitting evaluations to students. In addition, students arrive much better prepared than before, having already assimilated several important elements of laboratory work and therefore able to focus on the subject and goals of the laboratory.

Sample Question with a Caliper Manipulation Simulation

Sample Question with a Caliper Manipulation Simulation

New Opportunities

At Collège Édouard-Montpetit, several years have been spent in developing a "program approach" regarding laboratory preparation work. With laboratory periods in three courses in physics and two courses in chemistry, teachers always repeat information about laboratory measuring and the experimental method in each session. Since students can be graded by several physics and chemistry teachers, the interactive course that has been created could foster a collaborative approach between science teachers in order to avoid repetition and promote consistency throughout a student's academic career. We are only at the start of our use of "Mesures et incertitudes en laboratoire", but students' reactions and the academic potential to date, have been extremely positive.

Our course has received a mention in the Prix du ministre de l'Enseignement supérieur 2012-2013 and OCTAS in the "learning environment" category. The demand for such a tool is strong. We see the potential for other courses to be created on the platform that was used and are reflecting on how the formula for "Mesures et incertitudes en laboratoire" could be adapted to other content and other disciplines. Translating this existing course into English is a natural next step.

Do you have any ideas for content that could be adapted on such a platform? Would an English version of this material interest you?

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