The use of an information processing model to design and evaluate a physics undergraduate laboratory
The difficulties in understanding science particularly laboratory learning at undergraduate level were reported by many researchers and authorities. The literature on Science Education contains many examples of teachers' attempts to change laboratory practice to overcome the problem that "much of the student behaviour in laboratories is that of recipe following: they gain hand skills but it is all too possible to follow mindlessly the instructions in a manual". The student will have to cope with many types of learning stimuli that may lead to a state of working memory overload. So it is not surprising that the attempts made to measure the learning outcomes from practical work have produced disappointing results. There are only few systematic, theory-driven measurements reported particularly in the field of physics education. The psychological background guiding our thinking throughout has been derived from information processing theory. This theory attempts to identify what happens during the acquisition, storage and retrieval stages of learning. A model was presented at the Centre For Science Education Glasgow University, which represents the thinking process in a predictive way. Using the model, it was decided to concentrate on the principal and inter-linked strategies to improve the laboratory teaching (1) Use pre-labs to involve students in a more 'expert' role, (2) Revise the manual to reduce noise and so reduce overload. Special consideration was given to student perception, the ever-present possibility of working memory overload and the necessity for students to construct for themselves sound and branched mental structures to help them to approach practical bench problems by lateral thinking. The changes to the physics-II laboratory programme were made and evaluated over two years. This study is an evaluation of the effectiveness of changes made to the undergraduate Physics-II laboratory course at Glasgow University.