Simulations in Science Education – Status Quo


  • Lisa Stinken-Rösner Leuphana University Lüneburg



Science Education, Experiments, Digital Media, Simulations


During the last decades digitalization has proceeded rapidly and various digital teaching and learning tools are available nowadays. One for science education typical and theoretically well described application are simulations. While previous research focused on design features and/or learning effects of the use of simulations, up to now little is known about the extent to which simulations are actually used in science classes. In this study the use of simulations in science education is analyzed as well as (design) features which are important for teachers when choosing a simulation. 76 teachers were surveyed through a (online) questionnaire. 61% of the asked teachers use simulations in their lessons, independent of their age, teaching experience and number of science lessons per week. Significant differences occurred depending on the sex of the teachers, school type and subject. When choosing simulations, teachers use a limited number of known online providers. The most important (design) features are scientific correctness, use of scientific language, free availability, clear visual design which is similar to everyday-life, and matching technical resources. Of minor importance are features which consider the diversity of the learning group.

Background: Over the past decades the supply of digital media has grown steadily and partially very specific offers, such as simulations, have been developed for science education. The use of digital media is intended to increase the teaching quality and to enhance student’s digital literacy (KMK, 2016). Various studies have shown that the use of simulations can, among other things, help to increase students' interest and motivation, improve their conceptual understanding, and generate stronger and longer-lasting learning effects (de Jong & von Joolingen, 1998; Baumann, Simon, Wonisch, & Guttenberger, 2013; Rutten, von Joolingen, & van der Veen, 2012; Vogel et al., 2006).
Purpose: The purpose of the current study is to determine, whether the potentials of simulations are recognised and used by science teachers. This leads to the following questions: (i) To what extent do science teachers use simulations in science education? And, if we assume that simulations are used at least to some extent: (ii) Which (design) features are of significance for science teachers when choosing a simulation?

Sample/Setting: The sample contains 76 teachers (36 male and 40 female) from the natural sciences who were addressed by e-mail. The participants are on average 42.5 (SD = 9.3) years old and have been teaching for 12.2 (SD = 8.0) years at lower (grades 5 to 10) and/or senior level (grades 11 to 13) high schools in Northern Germany. The participating teachers have medium to good technical resources. 61% of the participants (n = 46) use simulations in science classes, 39% (n = 30) do not, which leads to slightly different sub-sample sizes.

Design Methods: The use of simulations in science teaching is investigated with the help of a self-designed (online) questionnaire. All tasks were reviewed by experts (n=7) and tested in a pilot study (n=11). Possibly misleading formulations were revised to ensure objectivity. Validity was ensured by combining open and closed tasks. Furthermore, reliability can be assumed since no multi-item scales were calculated. Additionally, inter-item correlation was analyzed in order to ensure internal consistency.

Results: 61% of the teachers surveyed use simulations in their lessons. The use of simulations does not depend on age (𝑀=42.51,𝑆𝐷=9.31,𝑝=.735) or years of experience (𝑀=12.24,𝑆𝐷=8.03,𝑝=.578) of the teachers, nor on the number of subject lessons per week (𝑝𝐵𝑖𝑜=.291; 𝑝𝐶ℎ𝑒=.329; 𝑝𝑃ℎ𝑦=.068; 𝑝𝑆𝑐𝑖=.699). There are significant differences in the use in terms of sex (𝜒2 (1,𝑁=76)=3.916,𝑝=.048∗), school type (𝜒2 (6,𝑁=76)=15.759,𝑝=.015∗) and subject (𝜒2 (4,𝑁=103)=11.928,𝑝=.018∗). Especially physics teachers at high school level (Gymnasium) use simulations. Only a limited number of providers is used, whereby the level of awareness and use is significantly related to the subject (.000<𝑝<.037) (Stinken-Rösner & Abels, 2020a). Most important reasons for the use of simulations are the illustration of non-visible processes, the compensation of missing, defective or dangerous experimental materials as well as the lower effort and more reliable results compared to real experiments. Ranked on a 4-point Likert scale, the most important criteria when choosing a simulation are scientific correctness (M = 3.9, SD = 0.4), the free availability (M = 3.6, SD = 0.6), the use of appropriate scientific language (M = 3.5, SD = 0.6), consideration of student’s beliefs (M =3.4, SD = 0.7) as well as qualitative presentation of relations (M = 3.4, SD = 0.6). Of low importance, however, are features which consider the diversity of the learning group. Teachers who do not use simulations have (significantly) higher demands on simulations (.000<𝑝<.021) than their experienced colleagues.

Conclusions/Implications for classroom practice and future research: Even though simulations seem to be already an integral part of today’s science education which enhance students’ experimental experiences, teachers need to be better equipped with findable and accessible high-quality simulations, which fit their teaching demands. Additionally, special professional development courses need to be designed to ensure that (ongoing) teachers can develop the competencies to identify simulations, integrate them into their teaching and reflect on their use. Simulations can be a resource to enable participation for all students, but may open other barriers at the same time (Stinken-Rösner & Abels, 2020b). Hence, further research about the effective implementation, especially in inclusive science education, is necessary.

Keywords: Science Education, Experiments, Digital Media, Simulations



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