The Utah online Virtual Lab is a JAVA program run dynamically off a database. Instructors author a statistical virtual reality simulating theories and data in a specific research focus area by defining independent, predictor, and dependent variables and the relations among them. Students work in an online virtual environment to discover the principles of this simulated reality: they go to a library, read theoretical overviews and scientific puzzles, and then go to a lab, design a study, collect and analyze data, and write a report. A student's design and data analysis decisions are computer-graded and recorded in a database; the written research report can be read by the instructor or by other students in peer groups simulating scientific conventions.
Type of Material:
Simulation of a research project.
The site could be used as an adjunct to a statistics or research methods class (to supplement material presented passively).
If using Netscape Browser you need version 4.7 or greater, if using Microsoft Explorer you need the Java plug-in. The site requires that an applet be downloaded and a fast connection is a must.
Identify Major Learning Goals:
This site provides a chance for students to learn about the process of research from the time a hypothesis is formed to the presentation of the results to others. The student begins with a hypothesis and then must determine what experiemental design is most appropriate.
Target Student Population:
The site is intended for students enrolled in a statistics or a research methods class. The methodology in the story problems provided are geared towards the behavioral sciences.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
The user needs to be familiar with the types of experimental designs and statistical analysis (though they are briefly covered in the program). The site is designed to develop an understanding of what to do given a particular research question.
Evaluation and Observation
This is exactly what computers are best used for in education, which is to teach process. Teaching process is very difficult in a lecture, and is best done one-on-one with a student (which is impractical). In essence this program allows the instructor to create any number of story problems, while adding the ingredient of randomly generated data to make it more realistic and interesting, and having the computer do the grading.
This site is a demonstration of the student side of the software; access to the instructor side would be informative. It is not clear to the student that some of their report is not being graded by the computer. Those verbal aspects of the report that are beyond the computer's ability to grade are graded in other contexts when the students print it out and hand it in. The site is complicated and far from from self-explanatory. Printing out lengthy instructions is a must.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
The ability of the program to give the students a wide variety of story problems, calling for a wide variety of experimental designs and statistical procedures is great.
Complex nature may lead to frustration.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
Students move through the process in a linear fashion, while it is hard to get lost during the process, it may be difficult to get started. As noted, the directions are a must.
It would be good to have the stat tool appear as a tool immediately, rather than as a web page with another button to be pressed. Some of the 'Help' buttons led to blank text fields. In general the choices could be tweaked a little for more clarity.