Importance of Learning Physics with help of Simulation

Contributed by:
The dwindling interest and the perceived difficulty experienced by science students in learning physics at the senior
high school level of education in Ghana speak to the need for the creation of authentic instructional platforms that
promote enhanced learning as well as motivate students’ interest in physics.
1. European Journal of Interactive Multimedia and Education
2021, 2(2), e02111
ISSN 2732-4362 (Online) Research Article OPEN ACCESS
Enhancing Students’ Learning of Physics Concepts with
Simulation as an Instructional ICT Tool
Elizabeth Darko Agyei 1* , Douglas Darko Agyei 1
University of Cape Coast, GHANA
*Corresponding Author: [email protected]
Citation: Agyei, E. D., & Agyei, D. D. (2021). Enhancing Students’ Learning of Physics Concepts with Simulation as an Instructional ICT Tool.
European Journal of Interactive Multimedia and Education, 2(2), e02111.
The dwindling interest and perceived difficulty experienced by science students in learning physics at the senior
high school level of education in Ghana speak to the need for the creation of authentic instructional platforms that
promote enhanced learning as well as motivate students’ interest in physics. This study used an explanatory case
study design to examine the affordances of Physics Education Technology simulations (PhETs) as an instructional
tool with the intent to explain how enhanced students’ learning of physics concepts with simulations through
implementation processes are possible in the context of Ghana. Nine pre-service physics teachers were engaged
as learners to mimic the role of senior high school science students in witnessing simulation-based physics lessons.
Questionnaires, pre- and post-tests and focus group interviews were the data sources employed in this study. The
results showed that the learners’ learning enhanced with the use of PhETs because their learning outcomes
improved and also, they had positive experiences with the simulations. Consequently, the study advocates that
enhanced learning of concepts in physics with simulations are possible through interactive implementation
processes that are exploratory and demonstrative in nature and context-sensitive.
Keywords: high school physics, ICT, students’ learning, simulations-supported lessons
Received: 21 May. 2021  Accepted: 17 Aug. 2021
content knowledge (Bell & Smetana, 2008; Fan et al., 2018), and to
actively interact with teaching and learning materials (Allan, 2007; Fu,
2013; Koh, 2013; Mbodila et al., 2013). However, most of the literature
Physics as a subject, though described as a fundamental science in
mentioned herein examined the potentials of computer simulations in
general, is mostly perceived to be a difficult and non-interesting science
relation to how they had been used in the developed countries to
especially, at the high school level of education not only in Ghana, but
facilitate the teaching and learning of physics concepts. This seems to
internationally. There are several reasons to this perception. These may
suggest that existing literature has not explored adequately the
include students’ personal understanding of physics (Gray et al., 2008);
potentials of simulations from the perspective of the less developed
the method of instruction being used in teaching the subject (Azure,
countries like Ghana among others, even though such an initiative,
2015; Buabeng et al., 2012; Donnellan, 2003); and to a large extent, the
when undertaken, has the tendency to provide the developers of various
mathematics required for solving problems in physics (Taale, 2011).
existing science content-specific simulation environments with
Behar and Polat (2007) also added misconception as a contributing
valuable insights for upgrading their respective simulation interfaces to
factor to the difficulty of certain physics topics which could result from
be more context-friendly for effective integration into physics
students’ personal experiences (Martin et al., 2002). These prevalent
instruction world-wide. That notwithstanding, the aforementioned
issues call for efficient ways of teaching physics (Thompson & Logue,
potentials of simulations to a large extent, seem not to have been
2006) and hence, seem to echo the need for relevant and suitable
exhausted at all in Ghanaian physics classrooms at the senior high
teaching methods and technology-based interventions to be adopted for
school level; as teachers are not using ICT in their teaching practices
the purpose of not just clearing students’ misconceptions about physics,
(Agyei & Agyei, 2019). In light of these gaps, the present study, through
but also, providing authentic avenues for enhanced learning of the
implementation processes, explored the affordances of Physics
subject matter. Literature highlight the potentials of information and
Education Technology simulations (PhETs), which are developed on
communication technology (ICT) (e.g., simulations) among others to
research basis at the University of Colorado, Boulder
facilitate conceptual change (Chatzopoulos et al., 2021; Finkelstein et
(, as an instructional ICT tool with the intent
al., 2005; Stieff, 2003; Zacharia & Anderson, 2003; Zacharia, 2007),
to provide an account of how enhanced students’ learning of physics
enable students to be authentic in achieving their personal goals,
concepts are possible in the context of Ghana. Consequently, the study
develop critical thinking skills, construct their own knowledge, develop
© 2021 by the authors; licensee EJIMED by Bastas, UK. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution License
2. 2/9 Agyei & Agyei / European Journal of Interactive Multimedia and Education, 2(2), e02111
sought to address the question: How can enhanced students’ learning of conceptual understanding as well as the relationships that exist among
physics concepts using simulations be understood and/or explained? the concepts under exploration. PhETs are also noted for their
capacities to “support student engagement … and understanding of
physics concepts”. The affordances of PhETs as mentioned in the
literature herein, seem to situate the PhETs as “highly effective learning
tools” (Wieman et al., 2010, p. 225) and hence, the reason for its use in
The potentials of simulations use in the physics classroom have
the context of this study.
been explored and studied in different contexts in relation to different
physics concepts in literature (Dega et al., 2013; Jimoyiannis & Kosmis,
2001). For example, Jimoyiannis and Kosmis (2001) used computer RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
simulations to foster students’ understanding of physics concepts such
as velocity and acceleration in projectile motion. Findings of their work, Research Design
as explained in Esquembre (2001) showed that by the use of simulations, This study employed an explanatory case study design of nine pre-
students were provided with the conducive environment to: a) “develop service teachers to explain the extent to which the potentials of
their understanding about the phenomena and physical laws through a simulations when explored through instructional processes, enhance
process of hypothesis-making and idea-testing”; b) “… develop an students’ learning of concepts in physics. Both qualitative (e.g., focus
understanding of the relationships between physical concepts, variables group interview and written responses on pre- and post-test
and phenomena”; C) “employ a variety of representations (images, documents) and quantitative (e.g., pre-and post-test scores and survey)
animations, graphs, numerical data) that are helpful in understanding evidence of data collection and analysis were employed for triangulation
the underlying concepts, relations and processes”; and d) “investigate purposes. We emphasis here that the use of quantitative evidence in
phenomena that would not be possible to experience in a classroom or this study was not intended for making statistical generalization, but
laboratory” (Esquembre, 2001, p. 4). According to Jimoyiannis and rather to help strengthen the veracity of any explanation given in
Kosmis (2001), the use of simulations helped the students to get better relation to the phenomenon being considered (Yin, 2003). Data were
understanding of the physics concept which reflected in the high scores collected over a stretch period of seven weeks. This was however,
they obtained in the tasks given them. These findings seem to subjected to the convenient times of the participants.
emphasize the potential of computer simulations in provoking students’
knowledge construction of concepts in physics based on their
experiences with various simulation environments. Trundle and Bell Nine pre-service physics teachers participated in the study as the
(2005) compared students’ conceptual understanding before and after unit of analysis. These were in their second year of the science teacher
an instruction on lunar concepts mediated by planetarium simulations. education programme at the University of Cape Coast (UCC) Ghana. A
Their findings showed that the affordances of simulations (i.e., in purposive sampling method was used in the selection of the
making more observations, allowing predictions to be explored, taking participants. This was subjected to the “researchers’ experience and
consistent and accurate measurements) were essential to the knowledge” of the pre-service teachers (Kothari, 2004) based on their
enhancements in students’ understanding of the lunar concept, as it seriousness and commitment. The participants witnessed the
allowed them to observe the moon phases which in reality, seemed enactment of two sets of simulation-supported physics lessons (SSPLs)
impossible to observe. This brings out the potential of simulations as a on the topics: Deformation of Solids (DOS) and Frictional Force (FF).
visualizing tool. This seems to align with Kohnle (2014)’s assertion that During the implementation of the SSPLs, the participants were engaged
with simulations, students are able to visualize invisible abstract as learners to mimic the role of senior high school science students,
concepts as well as observe microscopic processes. Dega et al. (2013) thus, the term ‘learners’ from this point forward, refers to the
also used computer simulations to examine gains in students’ participants. It is important to mention that the participants had never
conceptual understanding of electricity and magnetism. Findings experienced the teaching of physics with simulations before, thus, the
revealed that additional instructional support was key to improvements study provided an authentic avenue for them to learn physics with ICT.
observed in students’ understanding of the concepts investigated. Other The anonymity of the nine participants is protected by use of
benefits of computer simulations in relation to physics learning include pseudonyms such as ‘Learner 1’, ‘Learner 2’ and so on.
“improving the teaching/learning process based on conceptual
Overview of Simulation-Supported Lessons Enacted
understanding” (El Kharki et al., 2020, p. 131; Pucholt, 2021),
promoting interactivity in the physics classroom (Agyei et al., 2019), Two lessons on the topics: Deformation of Solids (DOS) and Frictional
enhancing students’ performance in learning physics (Ouahi et al., Force (FF) were designed and enacted in study. The lesson on FF was
2021) and affording students the space to explore a wide range of topics designed to be exploratory and self-directed in delivery with emphasis
in physics through its multiple representation feature (Fan et al., 2018; on a Ghanaian classroom situation where both the teacher and students
Nadiradze et al., 2020; Podolefsky et al., 2010). These seem to reflect the (learners) have access to the computer. The DOS lesson adopted a
potentials of PhET simulations, in that, they are designed to provide demonstrative mode of delivery and was designed to fit into a classroom
interactive platforms that engage students to learn through exploration context wherein only the teacher had access to a computer due to lack
and discovery with the goal to help students to connect real-life of computer resources. All two modes of delivery were purposed to be
phenomena to the underlying subject matter in a particular science interactive and learner-focused. In particular, these lessons were
(Finkelstein et al., 2006; Wieman et al., 2010). The dynamic feedback developed and taught by a group of pre-service teachers who had been
feature of PhETs is also designed to provide direct feedback to students trained by the researchers of this study through a professional
as they interact with the simulation environment. According to Clark development programme on ICT integration; where they were
and Mayer (2003), such a feature is essential for developing students’
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Table 1. Summary of lessons designed and enacted
Lesson (topics) enacted Facilitator Name of selected PhETs used Mode of delivery
Hooke’s Law
Deformation of Solids Teacher A Demonstrative
Force and Motion: Basics (Friction)
Frictional Force Teacher B Exploratory
Table 2. Sample question for each subscale from questionnaire
Subscales Sample questions on learners’ experiences with the lessons
Interest Enjoyed the class and I wish such teaching with simulation will continue.
Comprehension The lesson explained concepts that I found difficult to understand before.
Presentation The content of the lesson was well delivered.
equipped with ICT-oriented competencies needed for the effective Survey
design, development and implementation of an ICT
A questionnaire on learners’ experiences with the SSPLs was used
(simulation)-supported physics lesson. These were in their third year of
to gain insights into how the implemented lessons facilitated and
the same science education teacher preparation programme at UCC. It
enhanced learners’ understanding of the two physics concepts taught.
is important to mention that, the role of this group of pre-service
The questionnaire was designed to include items adapted from Agyei
teachers (two in all, namely, Teacher A and Teacher B) in the context
(2012). In all, 14 items were constructed and used for this purpose.
of the study was to enact the SSPLs (Teacher A enacted the lesson on
Possible answers on an item were on a five-point Likert scale
DOS and then teacher enacted the lesson on FF) and also, design the pre-
(1=strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree). The scores are interpreted as
and post-tests for their respective lessons. Table 1 gives a summary of
follows: 1 is the lowest possible score, which represents a very strong
lessons that were witnessed by the learners.
negative opinion, while the 5 is the highest possible score which
Instrument and Procedures represents a very strong positive opinion. The items were pre-
determined and grouped into three sub-scales about the learners’
Pre- and post-test experiences in relation to their understanding of the SSPLs (see Table
Data were collected by use of pre- and post- tests. The tests 2 for sample question for each subscale). The sub-scales were: 1)
consisted of the same items on the topics: Deformation of Solids and Interest (Cronbach alpha = 0.87) —this was aimed at finding out if the
Frictional Force and was aimed at exploring the students’ conceptual lessons engaged the learners’ attention; 2) Comprehension (Cronbach
understanding of the selected topics. Both the pre-and post-tests were alpha= 0.79) — this was used to determine how clear and understanding
made up of five (5) items each for each of the topics. These tests were the lessons were; and 3) Presentation (Cronbach alpha=0.82)—this was
reviewed (by the researchers) and then, conducted before and used to determine whether the content was well explained during the
immediately after each of the two lessons was implemented. The delivery of the simulation-supported lessons.
written responses as provided on the pre- and post-test document by The questionnaire was administered twice to the learners after the
the learners who witnessed the lessons were also used as a qualitative implementation of the DOS lesson and also, after the implementation of
evidence in the study. A coding scheme was developed according to the the FF lesson.
extent to which respondents were able to vividly provide a solution,
offer an acceptable explanation, solve, or explain the problem. The
responses to the test items were scored dichotomously as either right (a
score of 1) or wrong (a score of 0). Thus, the maximum score that could
To analyze the data, descriptive statistics and non-parametric
be obtained for each of the test was 5. The interrater reliability (Cohen’s
statistics (Wilcoxon signed rank test) were used for the survey and the
κ) assessed by two raters was κ =0.94. Table 3 gives an overview of the
pre-and post-test scores. Effect size was calculated using Cohen’s d
results of the pre-and post-test scores of the learners.
(Cohen, 1988). Cohen (1988) provided tentative benchmarks for the
Focus group interview interpretation of effect sizes. He considers d=0.2 a small, d=0.5 a
Focus group interview was also used to collect data. This was done medium and d=0.8 a large effect size. Focus group interview data were
twice; first, after the DOS lesson and then, after the FF lesson was analyzed qualitatively using data reduction techniques in which major
implemented. Discussions in this respect were purposed to ascertain the themes were identified and clustered (Miles & Huberman, 1994).
usefulness of the simulation-supported lessons in enhancing learners’ Document analysis was employed to analyze and give meanings to
understanding of concepts in physics as well as their learning outcomes. the learners’ written responses to items on the pre-and post-tests
The focused group discussions were transcribed and coded using the document.
following coding schemes: appropriateness of the simulations (AS) for
learning the selected topic, use of simulation in clearing misconceptions
(CM), use of simulation in stimulating interest (SI) of learners and the
use of simulations in improving learning (IL). Two raters coded the
To address the research question: “How can enhanced students’
data; The interrater reliability (Cohen’s κ) was κ =0.92.
learning of physics concepts using simulations be understood and/or
explained”, both qualitative and quantitative evidence were used. These
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Table 3. Related-Samples Wilcoxon test results for pre- and post-test mean scores (N=9)
Topic Mean (SD) Z P Effect size
Pre -test 2.67 (0.500)
Deformation of Solids - 2.45 0.014** 0.83
Post-test 3.33 (1.000)
Pre- test 3.33 (0.500)
Frictional Force - 2.45 0.014** 1.90
Post-test 4.00 (0.001)
Pre-test 3.00 (0.594)
Combined (Topics) -3.46 0.001* 0.98
Post-test 3.67 (0.767)
* = p< .01, **= p< .05
Figure 1. (a) Excerpt of Learner 3’s responses to pre-test item number 1(b) before the enactment of the SSPL on Frictional Force; (b) Excerpt of
Learner 3’s responses to the post-test item number 1(b) after the enactment of the SSPL on Frictional Force
helped to explain the enhanced students' learning of the subject matter (M=3.67, SD =0.767) of the combined lessons also showed significant
at two levels: improved students' learning outcomes and learners' difference (p < 0.01) with a large effect size (d=0.98); an indication that
perceived positive experiences with the SSPLs. the PhET simulation-based lessons impacted positively on the students’
Improved Students' Learning Outcomes learning outcomes and consequently, enhanced their learning.
The analyses of responses given by Learner 3 and Learner 6 in
The results of the study showed that the participants’ (learners’)
answering the pre- and post- test items for the lesson on Frictional Force
learning of concepts in physics enhanced with the PhET simulations as
confirmed the quantitative results (Figure 1a and Figure 1b; Figure 2a
their learning outcomes were found to have improved. Data from pre-
and Figure 2b for Learner 3 and Learner 6, respectively).
and post-test scores, learners’ written responses to items on the pre-and
post-tests document as well as the focus group interview supported The results from Figure 1a and Figure 2a show that before the
these results. Table 3 gives an overview of the results of the pre-and simulation-supported lesson on FF was enacted by Teacher A, all the
post-test scores of the learners. Table 3 seems to suggest that the test two learners (i.e., Learner 3 and 6) could not answer the question 1(b):
scores for the lesson on Deformation of Solids (pre=2.67, post=3.33) were “The force that overcomes the opposing force of a body is called….” of
lower compared to that on Frictional Force (pre=3.33, post=4.00). the pre-test. It would be envisaged that these learners, as pre-service
teachers, would have mastered these concepts by now since, they were
A possible reason which explains the relatively low scores for the
expected to teach this same content at the SHS levels in future.
lesson on DOS could have been the difficulty level of the subject matter.
However, it appears that Learner 3 had misconstrued Applied Force to
That notwithstanding, it was important to ascertain whether the
mean net force as seen in Figure 1a. An indication that there were gaps
differences existing between the pre-post tests were significant or not.
in his prior knowledge about Frictional Force. Learner 6 seemed not to
Results from the Wilcoxon paired sampled rank test showed that have any prior knowledge about it, as he left the space blank. However,
there were significant differences in learning outcomes of students for after the PhET simulation-supported lesson, they all answered the same
both lessons: Deformation of Solids (z = -2.45, p < .05); and Frictional question correctly as indicated in Figure 1b and Figure 2b. These
Force (z = -2.45, p < .05) with large effect sizes of d=0.83 and d=1.90 suggest that the intervention helped Learner 3 to clear his
respectively. The overall test scores: pre (M=3.00, SD = 0.594) and post misconception about the name of the force that overcomes the
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Figure 2. (a) Excerpt of Learner 6’s responses to the pre-test item number 1(b) before the enactment of the SSPL on Frictional Force; (b) Excerpt
of Learner 6’s responses to the post-test item number 1(b) after the enactment of the SSPL on Frictional Force
opposing (frictional) force. Also, Learner 6’s knowledge gaps about Similarly, with the DOS lesson which was taught by Teacher B, the
Frictional Force were filled. This is an indication (as found with the learners believed that their learning had been enhanced because their
quantitative results), that the PhET simulation-supported lesson learning outcomes had improved in relation to the implication of the
impacted positively on the students’ learning outcomes, thus, their mathematical expression associated with the physics concept, Hooke’s
learning had been enhanced with the selected simulation environment. Law which in terms of spring systems; states that “the force needed to
extend or compress a spring by some distance is proportional to that distance”.
Results from the focus group discussions with the learners after the
Two of the learners explained their improved learning outcomes in this
implementation of the DOS and FF lessons also confirmed this finding.
regard as follows:
In relation to the FF lesson, learners believed that with the PhET
simulation entitled: Force and Motion: Basics (Friction), they learned and Learner 1: Considering the mathematical expression of the
understood the concepts under the topic: Frictional Force better— force, I mean the applied force in relation to the spring constant
suggesting that learning was enhanced because their learning outcomes and then displacement. Initially, I did not find the negative sign
in relation to the topic had improved. The following were the responses so important …, but later on, I observed from the simulation
gathered from two of the learners in this regard: that the restoring force was acting opposite to the applied force.
So, the negative sign is very important. I think I have learnt
Learner 2: … at first when they teach us, they tell us that for a
something new [IL].
body to be able to move, the applied force must be greater than
the frictional force; that one, it was just an abstract thing, but
Learner 8: … like as somebody [referring to Learner 1] was
today with the simulation, it was concrete, we saw clearly that saying he now knows the essence of the negative sign; at the
the body was able to move by increasing the applied force [IL]. SHS, I learned Hooke’s Law by “chew and pour” [meaning, rote
learning], but then, I did not know the essence of the negative
Learner 7: The use of simulation with respect to the topic
sign until when we started using the simulation here [IL].
selected was appropriate [AS] because today, I got to know that
frictional force can also be called retarding force [IL and CM]. The comments by Learner 1 and Learner 8 were confirmed in their
respective test papers before and after the enactment of the DOS lesson
Comments as highlighted by the Learner 2 and Learner 7 suggest
with the Hooke’s Law PhET simulation environment. See Figure 3a and
that the PhETs used in the instructional process was appropriate for
Figure 3b; and Figure 4a and Figure 4b.
learning the FF concept in that, it helped them to clear their
misconceptions, enhanced their conceptual understanding and Results from both the focus group discussion data and the answers
expanded their knowledge of Frictional Force—an indication that their given by the same learners (i.e., Learner 1 and Learner 8) show that, the
learning enhanced with Force and Motion: Basics (Friction) PhET SSPL on DOS, helped the learners to make meaning of the negative sign
simulation environment. in the Hooke’s law mathematical expression. As can be inferred from
Figure 3a and Figure 4a, both learners omitted the negative sign in
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Figure 3. (a) Excerpt of Learner 1’s response to pre-test item number 3; (b) Excerpt of Learner 1’s response to post-test item number 3
Figure 4. (a) Excerpt of Learner 8’s response to pre-test item number 3; (b) Excerpt of Learner 8’s response to post-test item number 3
their mathematical expressions for Hooke’s law before the lesson. (Learner 4 and Learner 9) after witnessing the DOS lesson by Teacher
However, after the lesson with the PhETs, they seemed to have gained A had the following to say:
deeper conceptual understanding into the subject matter and hence,
came to appreciate the essence of the negative sign associated with the Learner 4: If it is based on my experience with the two lessons,
mathematical expression for Hooke’s law (see Figure 3b and Figure 4b). then I will say that the previous lesson [referring to the FF
This suggests that their learning of the subject matter was enhanced lesson] where we interacted with simulation ourselves was
with respect to the DOS lesson. much interesting … [SI]
Learners’ Perceived Positive Experiences with Simulation- Learner 9: This one [referring to the DOS lesson], the teacher
Supported Physics Lessons demonstrated and he was so fast and since we did not have
The results of the study also showed that students’ enhanced access to the computer, we could not get the concept … but with
learning of physics concepts can be explained from the perspective of the other lesson [FF lesson], we had access so, even if you
their perceived positive experiences with the simulation-supported missed the concept for the first time, you can always go back to
lessons. The survey data on learners’ experiences with the SSPLs redo. So, I think the first lesson [FF lesson] was more
provided evidence in this regard. Table 4 gives an overview of the interactive than this [referring to the DOS lesson] because, we
learners’ scores on the 3 sub-scales after the lessons. were doing and seeing for ourselves [SI, IL]
The results indicate that the learners found the lessons very Comments from the learners seem to suggest that the
interesting and well understood. In addition, they perceived the demonstrative approach in itself as led by the Teacher A was
presentation of the lessons to be attention grabbing; which promoted interactive, and that it was the classroom situation adopted where only
class participation. The overall means of the various aspects of the the teacher had access to the computer (and for that matter, the
lessons reported by the learners were very high; Interest (Mean = 4.54, simulation environment) which posed as a barrier to the instructional
SD = 0.288) followed by Comprehension (Mean = 4.12, SD = 0.490), process. Apparently, the limited access to computer resources made the
and then Presentation (Mean = 4.08, SD = 0.493). The differences DOS lesson which adopted the demonstrative form of inquiry less
reported between the two lessons for the sub-scales were quite close learner-focused as compared to the FF lesson which was exploratory in
although sub-scales for lesson on Deformation of Solids were relatively nature; wherein learners had access to the computers and so, could
lower in general. In particular, the difference in the Presentation sub- explore the simulation environment by themselves.
scale seemed to be more pronounced. The demonstrative form of
In all, both qualitative and quantitative results presented pertaining
inquiry adopted by Teacher A for the delivery of the lesson on
to the research question suggest that the PhETs facilitated enhanced
Deformation of Solids might have contributed to this. Results from the
learning of the two selected concepts (i.e., DOS and FF) in physics based
focus group discussions with the learners after the implementation of
the DOS lesson also confirmed this finding. Two of the learners
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Table 4. Learners’ scores on the three sub-scales of the lessons
Deformation of Solids (N=9) Frictional Force (N=9) Overall (N=9)
Subscale Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD
Interest 4.50 0.280 4.58 0.306 4.54 0.288
Comprehension 4.06 0.507 4.20 0.491 4.12 0.490
Presentation 3.81 0.512 4.36 0.283 4.08 0.493
on their improved learning outcomes and perceived positive connect real-life phenomena to the underlying subject matter in a
experiences with the SSPLs. particular science (Finkelstein et al., 2006).
Although, the overall results situate the interactive nature of the
exploratory and demonstrative modes of delivery adopted for the
implementation process as key to learners’ enhanced learning
outcomes, the demonstration mode of delivery in the context of the
The study explored the affordances of PhET simulations with the
study seemed to have been less learner-focused because only the teacher
goal to provide understanding into how enhanced learning using
had access to the computer. This explains the pronounced difference in
simulations can be realized through implementation processes. The
means reported in the Presentation sub-scale for the two lessons (3.81
analysis (from both qualitative evidence; see Figures 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b, 3a,
for DOS and 4.36 for FF). Apparently, with the DOS lesson, the teacher
3b, 4a, and 4b and qualitative evidence; see Table 3 and Table 4)
did most of the demonstration during the implementation process and
showed that the learners’ learning of physics concepts was enhanced
consequently, learners were limited in learning with the PhETs, as they
because of their improved learning outcomes and perceived positive
were not afforded the space to explore the DOS concept adequately with
experiences with the PhET simulation-supported lessons. The PhETs’
the multiple representation feature of the Hooke’s Law simulation
use in the teaching and learning process facilitated enhancements in the
environment (Agyei, 2021; Podolefsky, 2010).
learners’ understanding of concepts under the topics: Frictional Force
and Deformation of Solids. Learners’ misconceptions about the subject
matter were cleared (see Figures 1a and 1b) and also, the formation of RESEARCH LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE
their own personal meanings of the concepts under study were WORK
advanced. These findings seem to hint that the affordances of the PhETs
promoted learners’ conceptual change as well as conceptual This study was not without limitations. The fact that data were
development of the subject matter—an indication of the extent to which collected from only nine pre-service physics teachers within a science
the PhETs facilitated understanding of the physics concepts taught. teacher education programme at the University of Cape Coast limits the
This explanation is consistent with findings from previous studies findings of the study for broad generalization.
(Barak & Dori, 2005; Bell & Smetana, 2008; Dega et al., 2013;
Again, since the study explored the potentials of simulations for
Jimoyiannis & Kosmis, 2001; Hannel & Cuevas, 2018; El Kharki et al., enhanced learning in physics classrooms, it would be expected that
2020; Ouahi et al., 2021; Pucholt, 2021; Trundle & Bell, 2005).
actual SHS science students—who are the beneficiaries of such ICT-
Specifically, findings in these studies situate computer simulations as based intervention, would be employed as learners in conducting the
useful tools for the enhancement of students’ conceptual understanding study and not pre-service teachers. This perhaps would have brought
of concepts in physics. about deeper insights into the realities of learning with technology in
Also, from the learners’ perspective, learning was enhanced because science classrooms at the senior high school. Further research is
the simulation-supported lessons were interesting, clear, well therefore recommended to examine the extent to which simulations
understood and attention-grabbing (see Table 4). This suggests that the enhance students’ learning of physics concepts in the actual high school
PhET simulation environments shaped learners’ learning of the selected physics classrooms.
concepts for the better by motivating their interest in the subject
matter, facilitating their understanding of the concepts studied and
engaging their attention throughout the instructional discourse
(Chatzopoulos et al., 2021; Fan et al., 2018; Nadiradze et al., 2020;
Vlachopoulos & Makri, 2017; Wieman et al., 2010). It is crucial to stress that even though the results that emanated
from this study do not allow for broad generalizations due to the limited
Enhanced learning as observed (based on the high means reported
scope and specific context, we are of the view that they provide
in Table 4 for various aspect of the lessons) could also be attributed to
information about the extent to which potentials of simulations
the interactive nature of the exploratory and demonstrative modes of
promote enhanced learning of high school physics through
delivery adopted for implementing the lessons. Apparently, these
implementation processes that are sensitive to the Ghanaian context
modes of delivery with the PhETs provided the learners with an
and also, conform to exploratory self-directed and demonstrative forms
authentic learning platform for knowledge construction (Agyei et al.,
of inquiry. In the light of this, the following propositions are
2019; Pucholt, 2021; Sarı et al., 2017) of the underlying physics concepts
encouraged for effective use of simulations in physics classrooms for
whereby their personal experiences were linked to real-world. This is
enhanced learning outcomes:
consistent with Wieman et al.’s (2010) observation that PhET
simulations afford interactive platforms that engage students to learn • As the teaching and learning processes with ICT (simulations)
through exploration and discovery with the goal to help students to strive on availability and access to technological resources, there is need
to improve access to ICT resources in Ghanaian SHS classrooms in
8. 8/9 Agyei & Agyei / European Journal of Interactive Multimedia and Education, 2(2), e02111
order to ensure that teaching with ICTs is effective in yielding the Agyei, E. D., Jita, T., & Jita, L. C. (2019). Examining the effectiveness of
desired learning outcomes. simulation-based lessons in improving high school physics
• Both exploratory self-directed and the demonstrative forms of teaching: Ghanaian pre-service teachers’ experiences. Journal of
inquiry employed for the implementation of the simulation-supported Baltic Science Education, 18(6), 818-832.
lessons were found in this study to be useful, purposeful, and
interactive. However, these modes of delivery were also found to be Allan, M. K. (2007). Millennial teachers: Student teachers as users of
context-specific. The study therefore recommends that teachers should information and communication – A New Zealand case study.
take the necessary precautions in assessing the resources available in International Journal of Education and Development using Information
their contexts in any attempt to incorporate simulations in their and Communication Technology, 3(2), 16-29.
instructional discourse. In cases, where there are limited computer Azure, J. A. (2015). Senior high school students’ views on the teaching
resources, as typical of most developing countries (e.g., Ghana), the of integrated science in Ghana. Journal of Science Education and
demonstrative form of inquiry is recommended as it provides an Research, 1(2), 49-61.
affordable and interactive platform for enhanced learning in situations Barak, M., & Dori, Y. J. (2005). Enhancing undergraduate students
where only the teacher has access to a computer. through project-based learning in an IT environment. Science
Education, 89(1), 117-139.
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enhanced students’ learning of physics concepts using simulations Bell, R. L., & Smetana, L. K. (2008). Using computer simulations to
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for enabling content development and conceptual change as well as classroom (pp. 23-32). National Science Teachers Association Press.
stimulating students’ interest in physics as a science subject. In the
Buabeng, I., Ampiah, J. G., & Quarcoo-Nelson, R. (2012). Senior high
context of the study, these affordances which were specific to PhET
school female students’ interest in physics as a course of study at the
simulations provided the basis for understanding why enhanced
university level in Ghana. IFE PsychologIA, 20(1), 369-379.
learning was observed, as was reflected in the learners’ improved
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simulation-supported physics lessons. Central to these findings herein Elza, D., & Psycharis, S. (2021). DuBot: An open-source, low-cost
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Author contributions: All authors were involved in concept, design,
collection of data, interpretation, writing, and critically revising the article.
All authors approve final version of the article. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd
Funding: The authors received no financial support for the research and/or Ed.). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
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Declaration of interest: Authors declare no competing interest. change in Electricity and Magnetism using simulations: A
Data availability: Data generated or analysed during this study are Comparison of cognitive perturbation and cognitive conflict.
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