The University of Edinburgh -
Division of Informatics
Forrest Hill & 80 South Bridge

PhD Thesis #8705

Title:Confronting Science Misconceptions with the Help of a Computer.
Date: 1987
Abstract:A long standing aim of science educators is to help secondary school science students to learn efficiently through various exploratory regimes. A further aim, currently held by several leading science educators, is to promote learning by confronting students with the inconsistencies entailed by their own beliefs. The claim at the heart of the thesis is that well designed computer-based modelling facilities can provide advantages over many approaches exploiting other media and that such facilities can be used to promote the kinds of conflict that are believed to be beneficial. This claim is explored through an analysis of the role of modelling in science, the nature of student's beliefs about physical phenomena that conflict with more established beliefs and of how computer-based modelling environments can promote learning through modelling. This requires consideration of a wide number of issues relating to educational theory and practice, student learning, the design of modelling environments and methodologies and techniques taken from the field of Artificial Intelligence. The methodology adopted required that a number of computer environments be constructed and observations made of their usage by students. The environments are used to focus attention on the various issues. The results contained within this thesis include a short analysis of the educational implications if the use of modelling environments were to be more widely adopted, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of these systems in terms of how they promote student learning - particularly in relation to the nature of the beliefs that students hold - and design criteria for how future systems might be built.

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