Chair of Physics Education

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Training and Assessment of experimental competencies from a distance

Our research interest in assessment is strongly connected to our project Spectrometry from a distance.

Introduction and theory

Many national science education standards define competencies in science and engineering that all students should be able to demonstrate at subsequent stages in their K-12 learning experience (e.g., National Research Council, 2013). Experimenting is an essential part of physics and physics education. Hence, tools are needed that assess both knowledge and skills of knowledge acquisition. Since hands-on experiments are not suitable for large-scale assessment, process-oriented experimental competencies may be assessed in virtual labs. Considering the 2006/7 debate on minimally guided teaching techniques, assessment tools on experimental competencies including process-oriented inquiry techniques should be familiar to students to prevent cognitive overload while assessing competencies. Furthermore, the format of an assessment tool for a particular learning environment should be similar to the format of the learning environment itself. Thus, teachers should introduce theses assessment tools in class as instructional tools.

Concept and implementation

Banchi and Bell (2008) proclaimed four levels of inquiry in activities with rising opening and withdrawal of predefined structure – confirmation inquiry, structured inquiry, guided inquiry and open inquiry. Based on this classification, we developed a remotely controlled laboratory with predefined set-ups selectable according to the class. This reduces the complexity of the lab activity for students. Students can carry out real experiments via the internet. They can choose from different light bulbs and analyze them with a spectrometer. All user activities are logged by the system without disturbing the students.

Objectives and assessment

Assessment of experimental competencies is not yet well established. We just started with an empirical pilot study, too. This study aimed to examine if undergraduate students may successfully use a predefined remote lab activity to introduce atomic physics to themselves on their own. We evaluated the experimental setup and the accompanying worksheet with groups of two to four students in a laboratory condition. Additionally, the emerged learning material was brought to school and tested as a homework activity with 9th-graders replacing the regular introduction to atomic physics. Since our local curriculum preserves approximately two 45-minute lessons for the introduction to atomic physics especially including the introduction to atomic spectra, excitation, de-excitation, quantized energy radiation, and term-schemata. Even if the school owns a spectrometer, there is not enough time to include a lab activity in class. A homework-based activity in a remote lab can fill this gap and may deliver a new approach to procedural learning. Furthermore, lab activity as homework can foster problem-based, discovery, and inquiry-based learning and support collaborative and cooperative learning as well.


Banchi, H., & Bell, R. L. (2008). The Many Levels of Inquiry. Science and Children, 46, 26–29.

National Research Council. (2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.