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Peer Review

Utah Virtual Lab for teaching Science, Methods, and Statistics

by Thomas Malloy


Overall Numeric Rating:

5 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 5 stars
Ease of Use: 3 stars
Reviewed: Jan 05, 2003 by Psychology
Overview: 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.
Recommended Uses: The site could be used as an adjunct to a statistics or research methods class
(to supplement material presented passively).
Technical Requirements: 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

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: 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.
Concerns: 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

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: 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.
Concerns: Complex nature may lead to frustration.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 3 stars
Strengths: 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.
Concerns: 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.

Other Issues and Comments: