Date of Award


Document Type

Master's report

Degree Name

Master of Science in Applied Science Education (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences


Bradley Baltensperger


Some schools do not have ideal access to laboratory space and supplies. Computer simulations of laboratory activities can be a cost-effective way of presenting experiences to students, but are those simulations as effective at supplementing content concepts? This study compared the use of traditional lab activities illustrating the principles of cell respiration and photosynthesis in an introductory high school biology class with virtual simulations of the same activities. Additionally student results were analyzed to assess if student conceptual understanding was affected by the complexity of the simulation. Although all student groups posted average gain increases between the pre and post-tests coupled with positive effect sizes, students who completed the wet lab version of the activity consistently outperformed the students who completed the virtual simulation of the same activity. There was no significant difference between the use of more or less complex simulations. Students also tended to rate the wet lab experience higher on a motivation and interest inventory.