This paper addresses the effectiveness of combined virtual and physical hands-on activities in students’ learning which was infused in the capstone senior design project. Senior design projects are open-ended and are similar to the research that scientists perform toward a more comprehensive understanding of nature or new scientific knowledge. As a reinforced learning methodology to greatly assist students’ reasoning and problem-solving skills, virtual learning was first integrated at the planning stage of their projects. This approach is in contrast with the typical senior design courses where only limited resources are available for planning experiments. Using virtual learning, students are able to revisit or learn new background theories and principles and identify and test a hypothesis before they actually engage in physical hands-on activities. This reinforced learning strategy efficiently guided students in preparing, confronting, and tackling the open-ended, inquiry-based problem with solid theoretical knowledge and principles. As a result it provided better planning for the physical hands-on activities. When engaged with physical hands-on activities, virtual laboratories were also be used to identify the disparity between theoretical and experimental results and additional activities designed to interpret the differences. This practice truly allowed students to experience the entire scientific process from solid theoretical reasoning obtained from virtual laboratories, to designing their own activities, to initial observations, and to follow-on activities based on the results of earlier activities. Our evaluation indicates that pedagogical modules of team based investigation using virtual and physical hands-on activities were very effective for students' learning.
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