CEC Theses and Dissertations

Title

Using Simulators to Guide Practice and Reinforce Online Learning

Date of Award

2007

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Computing Technology in Education (DCTE)

Department

Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences

Advisor

Getrude W. Abramson

Committee Member

Marlyn Kemper Littman

Abstract

The use of simulators in support of learning has been problematic. The limited reports on their implementation in classrooms, or in distance learning, to replace existing laboratory equipment have been incomplete and contradictory making assessment of their value difficult. Since the majority of the studies were conducted at four year colleges or universities, the validity of generalizing the results to community colleges is also questionable. However, should a method be identified to successfully implement simulators in classrooms, there would be a potential savings in equipment purchase costs and means to provide an alternative to traditional classroom laboratories. From a distance learning perspective, simulators would enable the creation of active learning environments previously not possible because of equipment requirements of the learner.

However, insufficient information existed to provide a guide for community colleges to create and implement a simulated laboratory learning environment for computer training. The goal of the study was to use computer-based simulators to enable distant students to master work traditionally done in a hands-on computer laboratory. It applied current learning theories and course design techniques to create a learning environment for computer training, executed training in the environment and provided a rich descriptive report on the findings.

When used in an appropriate context, simulators provided the equivalent learning environment to that of real hardware. In the experimental courses, students perceived the simulator product as beneficial to their learning experience, and confirmed their position by rating simulator labs highly and stating they would take future courses that use simulators. A pretest to posttest score comparison confirmed that knowledge of the subject matter had indeed improved. Also, the results confirmed an existing demand for simulators as tools to reinforce learning, to enable online courses, to increase flexibility in scheduling of tradition classrooms, and to reduce costs of maintaining classroom equipment.

A thick description of the design, implementation and evaluation of the findings is included in this report to provide guidance for those implementing, or considering the implementation of, simulators in a community college setting. Recommendations to simulator developers and future researchers are also provided.

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