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Journal of Chemical Education

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Chemistry -- Study and teaching (Higher), Internet in education, Computer-assisted instruction, Distance education, Active learning


To date the efficacy of virtual experiments is not well understood. To better understand what differences may exist between a hands-on learning environment and a virtual learning environment, three experiments were chosen for investigation. For each experiment, approximately half of the students completed a hands-on version of the experiment and the other half completed a virtual version. After completing the given experiment, students were compared on: their ability to meet the learning objectives for that experiment, their responses to six affective scales, and their grade on a laboratory report. Differences were found on four learning objectives. Two of these learning objectives were on the Beer’s Law experiment and the other two were on the titration experiment whereas the calorimetry experiment had no differences between groups on learning objectives. However, all four differences are likely due to differences in procedures between environments and not due to the environment itself. Additionally, differences were found on two of the affective scales (usefulness of lab and equipment usability) across all three experiments indicating that the students who completed a virtual experiment found the experiment to be less useful and the virtual environment harder to use. Students that completed the virtual version of the titration experiment also reported that the experiment took less time as indicated by the difference on the open-endedness of lab scale. These differences are not representative of a students’ individual experience, however. To capture individual experiences, latent profile analysis was conducted to determine what affective profiles existed within the population. There were three common profiles identified across the three experiments: low affective outcomes, medium affective outcomes, and high affective outcomes. These indicate that while the majority of the students have medium or high affective outcomes and do well on laboratory reports, there is anywhere from four to seventeen percent of the students completing a given experiment, that have low affective outcomes but still do equally well on the laboratory report as the other students. Future work should be conducted to assess why students report low affective outcomes and if a different type of laboratory learning environment or curriculum type would better serve them.

Note: Supporting information is included as a supplemental file.


Copyright © 2020 American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.


This is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in The Journal of Chemical Education. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in The Journal of Chemical Education 97, 3, 616-625, and can be found online at:



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Supporting Information_12020.pdf (250 kB)
Supporting information