This week we discussed, used and read about computer based laboratory (CBL) probeware in the classroom. We were then asked to think about our experience and how we felt about using CBLs in our future classrooms. I have to say, I have quite mixed feelings about them.
I can absolutely see the value in CBL probeware to introduce and facilitate the ability of my students to perform experiments or studies they would not otherwise be capable of doing on their own. This is where CBLs shine in my opinion. Even better, CBLs like the Vernier probes we used are by in large very user friendly. Setting up a lab would not be incredibly time consuming – which is a huge consideration in classes that may only have 45 minutes of instructional time – and the computer interface is relatively simplistic and user friendly.
Downsides include the expense of the hardware and equipment, needing to tailor the laboratory activities themselves – which we discovered really do need some significant tailoring to make them more student friendly – and even though they are easy to set-up and learn to use, you would probably still need to dedicate a significant portion of at least one class period to walking the students through their use.
Here’s the other thing – our lives are so driven by electronics and technology. Sometimes, I think doing an experiment that doesn’t involve either of those makes a bigger impact. Tangible scientific results that students can create themselves is a pretty powerful tool. For example, the class I’m observing in is building their own weather equipment. Some groups are building barometers, some thermometers, some anemometers, some weather vanes and some rain gauges. These are simple devices to make from every day equipment and the students are learning a lot about how and why these devices work to measure weather through the shear act of making them. That is an experience you just cannot replicate using CBLs or by looking at a prebuilt barometer.
So, will I use CBLs in my classroom? Absolutely if they are available. The focus, however, will not be on using CBLs in every possible case. I plan to include many other opportunities to create and engage with science without technology and computers. If nothing else, I think the students will find that getting their hands involved in creating data and seeing experiment outcomes that they have created to be a powerful learning tool.