Students’ perceptions of changes to the learning environments of undergraduate physics laboratories

Gregory Thomas (Department of Secondary Education, The University of Alberta,Edmonton, Canada)
Al Meldrum (Department of Physics, The University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)

Interactive Technology and Smart Education

ISSN: 1741-5659

Publication date: 18 June 2018



The purpose of this study was to explore students’ perceptions to changes to the learning environment of their undergraduate physics laboratories, in which their scientific inquiry processes were stimulated.


The activities students engaged in were redesigned to reflect a guided inquiry approach and to acknowledge modern-day advances in science and technology. Further, enhanced guidance was provided for laboratory instructors regarding the nature of scientific inquiry and how to structure students’ inquiry experiences during laboratory sessions. Students’ views were sought regarding their perceptions of the impact of the reforms on the laboratory learning environments, their thinking processes in those environments and their views regarding the reform’s value and appropriateness.


Analyses of quantitative and qualitative data suggested that students responded positively to the reforms implemented. Large effect sizes of between 0.70 and 1.20 suggested significant positive shifts in students’ perceptions of dimensions of their laboratory learning environments. In interviews, students expressed that they had engaged in the cognitive processes of scientific inquiry and suggested that the reforms had stimulated such “inquiry” thinking. However, their perceptions of the value and appropriateness of such inquiry-oriented laboratory learning environments were mixed.


Concerns persist in higher education in relation to the extent of students’ inquiry processes in undergraduate physics laboratories. Reforms to both the activities that students engage in and to instructional strategies are necessary. Raising awareness of the views expressed by students might help inform future reforms that accommodate those views to further enhance similar reforms.



Thomas, G. and Meldrum, A. (2018), "Students’ perceptions of changes to the learning environments of undergraduate physics laboratories", Interactive Technology and Smart Education, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 165-180.

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