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ABSTRACT

Abstract
A MULTIMEDIA LEARNING SYSTEM FOR SELECTED TOPICS OF PHYSICS
By
Arreytambe Tabot, (MSc. Computer Science)
AUST, ABUJA, 2011
SUPERVISOR: Mohamed Hamada, The University of Aizu, Japan
The usage of computers in Physics Instruction began in the seventies and ever since then, lots of research efforts have been devoted to studying various emerging technologies and their impact on the learning process. Multimedia Learning Systems provide flexibility as well as a collaborative approach to learning, decreased cost of education for learners and proper time usage for instructors. It provides a major benefit over the traditional approach to Physics Instruction.
This Thesis is the analysis, design and implementation of a Multimedia Learning System for Selected Topics of Physics. A first implementation of our Environment for a Newtonian Mechanics course which happens to be one of the first areas of Physics introduced to undergraduate level Science Students is presented here. The technology used for this system is the Java 2D Technology of Sun Microsystems.
The system is portable, web-based enabled, machine-independent and easy-to-use. It can be used as a stand-alone application or run as an applet in any one of the major web-browsers. It is designed to meet the active learning preferences of Physics learners and can also be used as a supporting tool for other courses.
Keywords: Computer uses in education, computer-mediated instruction, multimedia learning systems.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgements……………………………………………………………………..……III
Abstract……………………………………………………………………………………….V
Table of Contents…………………………………………………………………………….VI
List of Figures………………………………………………………………………………..IX
Abbreviations…………………………………………………………………………………………………………….X
1 Introduction………………………………………………………………………………………1
1.1. Background………………………………………………………………………………1
1.2. Aims and Objectives…………………………………………………………………….5
1.3. Research Questions………………………………………………………………………6
1.4 Thesis Structure…………………………………………………………………………..6
1.5 Expected Contributions…………………………………………………………………..7
2 Brief Review of the State of Physics Education in the 21st Century……………………..9
2.1 Background………………………………………………………………………………9
2.1.1 Reasons for decline in enrollment of Physics Majors……………………………..10
2.1.1.1 Problems with the traditional Physics Curriculum…………………………11
2.1.1.2 Change in the overall perception as regarding the usefulness of Physics…..12
2.1.1.3 A change in the students……………………………………………………12
2.2 Usage of Computers in Physics Education………………………………………………..13
2.3 Motivation for choosing to develop a Multimedia Learning System for Newtonian Mechanics in this work………………………………………………………………………….15
2.3.1 Popularity of Newton’s Laws………………………………………………………15
2.3.2 Common misconceptions from beginning students…………………………………16
3 State of the Art of Learning Systems for Physics Education in General and Newtonian
Mechanics in particular…………………………………………………………………….19
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3.1 Tools for Data Acquisition and Manipulation……………………………………………19
3.2 Open-Access Educational websites………………………………………………………20
3.3 Integrated VLEs and microworlds……………………………………………………….22
4 Problem Statement: How does one effectively motivate students (African) to study Physics?………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..27
4.1 Issues facing the use of Multimedia Learning Systems as a tool for Physics Instruction..28
4.1.1 Computer acting as a master over student instead of the reverse…………………..28
4.1.2 Lack of full Intellectual Engagement on the part of the Student……………………30
4.1.3 Replacing the former methods of instruction with the computer…………………..31
4.1.4 Forgetting the students’ point of view in favor of designers……………………….32
4.2 Analysis of related works on Multimedia Learning Systems for Physics Instruction……33
4.3 Justification of research question…………………………………………………………35
5 A new approach to Physics Instruction: A Multimedia Learning System for Newtonian Mechanics……………………………………………………………………………………….36
5.1 Why a Multimedia Learning System for Newtonian Mechanics?………………………………….36
5.1.1 Skill Analysis…………………………………………………………………………38
5.1.1.1 Basic Skills…………………………………………………………………..39
5.1.1.2 Theoretical Skills…………………………………………………………….39
5.1.1.3 Experimental Skills………………………………………………………..…40
5.1.1.4 General Skills…………………………………………………………………40
5.2 Learner Preferences………………………………………………………………………..41
5.2.1 Active versus Reflective Learners……………………………………………………42
5.2.2 Sensing versus Intuitive Learners……………………………………………………42
5.2.3 Visual versus Verbal Learners……………………………………………………….42
5.2.4 Sequential versus Global Learners…………………………………………………..42
5.3 Design Principles…………………………………………………………………………..43
5.3.1 Teachers as facilitators not as knowledge transmitters……………………………..43
5.3.2 Learning must take place in a collaborative environment………………………..…43
5.3.3 Active involvement of learners is key………………………………………………44
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5.3.4 Proper procedures for assessment…………………………………………………..45
5.4 Implementation……………………………………………………………………………46
5.5 Detailed description of our Multimedia Learning System………………………………..46
5.5.1 Welcome screen and Introduction component…………………………………..….47
5.5.2 Newton’s Second Law Simulator (N2 Simulator)…………………………………..49
5.5.3 Visual Examples…………………………………………………………………..…51
5.5.3.1 Self-Assessment……………………………………………………………..51
5.6 Evaluation…………………………………………………………………………………52
6 Conclusions……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….54
6.1 Summary of work and results……………………………………………………………..54
6.2 Challenges…………………………………………………………………………………55
6.3 Future Work……………………………………………………………………………….55
7 References…………………………………………………………………………………….57
8 Appendices……………………………………………………………………………………60

CHAPTER ONE

Introduction
1.1 Background
Nowadays, our world functioning is largely based on Information Technology. The usage of computers in Physics instruction began in the seventies [1]. Since then, lots of research efforts have been devoted to studying various emerging technologies and their impact on the learning process. Learning systems (also known as Virtual Learning Environments or VLEs) are being developed for use in the educational as well as corporate sectors. Over the years various contributions have been made from the commercial as well as open-source communities. Today there are a good number of learning systems in existence. Some of which are open source while a good number of them are commercially available. In a certain study [30] of ninth grade students in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an intelligent-tutor software program was used as part of the regular curriculum for ninth-grade algebra, to support a curriculum focusing on mathematical analysis of real-world situations and the use of computational tools. On average, the 470 students in the experimental classes using the software outperformed students in comparison classes by 15% on standardized tests and 100% on tests targeting the curriculum-focused objectives.
Some of these systems are also being used by numerous blue chip companies to deliver training to employees and customers via web conferencing and applications such as WebEx (created by Communications Inc. and acquired by Cisco in 2007). We also have the Blackboard Learning System which is a web-based server platform and also an established leader in the commercial
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learning systems platform market supporting as many as 3200 global customers. Among the many Universities that make use of the Blackboard Learning suite are Heriot-Watt University, University of Antwerp, Trent University, University of Ulster just to name a few. Its main purposes are to add online elements to courses traditionally delivered face-to-face and to develop completely online courses with few or no face-to-face meetings. Moodle which stands for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment is a free and open-source e-learning software platform built using PHP (a server-side scripting language) and created by Martin Dougiamas in 2003 as part of a research project. Since then it has become extremely popular, having as of 31 August, 2011, a user-base of 55,110 registered sites with 44,966,541 users in 4,763,446 courses in 214 countries and in more than 75 languages [2].Also heavy 3D immersive worlds have emerged such as SLOODLE (an Open Source project which integrates the multi-user virtual environment of Second Life with the Moodle learning management system) that integrates course management and virtual worlds) which supports active and collaborative learning. There is also UMGUMBO, which is a 3D Virtual Learning Environment set in Newtonian simulation of the solar system [3].
A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a computer program that facilitates education via computer-mediated communication. They have increased in popularity over the years amongst Universities and other institutions of higher and further education. [4] Learning science research indicates that engineering and science students tend to have active and sensing learning preferences, and related educators are recognizing the need for more active and collaborative learning pedagogy. Many students entering college today, even some of those identified as among the brightest and highest achievers have been trained to associate learning physics with
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rote memorization and application of memorized laws in narrowly defined situations [5]. This has led many able students who could have become excellent research physicists to change their majors because they see physics as routine, abstract and boring. Some concepts are indeed abstract in nature for example, Quantum Mechanics and hence used to be taught by a traditional lecture-driven style. However, this manner of approach is more suitable for learners with reflective preferences. Since engineering and science learners tend to have strong active preferences, a lecture-driven teaching style is less motivating for them [4]. Since physics is a science whose results are continually tested and evaluated against the real world, a physicist needs experimental skills (provided by simulations in VLEs) as well as theoretical ones (provided as text in VLEs). This has led to the development of Integrated Environments (IE) for learning also known as Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) designed to tackle the above-mentioned issues.
There has been extensive research regarding the creation of VLEs for education in general and for topics of physics in particular. The advantages put forth by this educational tool that raises its popularity daily includes but are not limited to;
 The constructivist theory employed in the creation of these learning systems where students are no longer merely passive consumers of information but rather active producers in control of their own learning is a major advantage.
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 It provides flexibility in learning i.e. no longer is learning dependent on classroom availability as in the traditional learning approach but rather becomes ubiquitous in nature.
 It also provides an environment where students can interact in real-time with their instructors and get feedback on assignments and quizzes as well as engage collaboratively with their peers in solving lab exercises, homework’s and other activities.
 Learning is no longer limited to scheduled groups as in the traditional “chalk and talk” approach but is now available at any time.
 It provides an avenue for the lecturers themselves to spend more time engaged in active research and other administrative duties rather than preparing lesson notes for students since the center of focus is now shifted from the lecturer to the student.
However, there are still some draw backs associated with learning systems in general. The authors in [6] state that very few learning systems lay emphasis on the importance of motivation for students and lecturers alike, in the sense that their non-user friendly and hectic environments reduces motivation of both the students and lecturers. E-learning can be both highly interactive and simultaneously isolating because of the inherent difficulties of developing cohesiveness and true connectedness among students (Sauer, 2001). Heinze and Procter in [7] discuss the lack of social interaction as one of the major draw backs in the use of learning systems to assist the
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educational process. This creates a special need to motivate the less independent student as all students don’t have the same learning preferences.
1.2 Aims and Objectives
This Thesis aims to tackle the above mentioned problems associated with the design and implementation of learning systems in general and for topics of physics in particular of which Newtonian Mechanics is our topic of choice, to meet the active learning preferences for learners. This topic was chosen because in most introductory physics courses mechanics usually is the first area of physics that is discussed. Newton’s laws of motion, which describe how massive objects respond to forces, are central to the study of mechanics. Newton arrived at his three laws of motion from an extensive study of empirical data including many astronomical observations. An active learning approach to physics instruction is very useful since as the famous adage says, “I see and I forget, I hear and I remember, I do and I understand.” The approach will be used as a supporting tool for active learning not only for physics topics, but can also be implemented for other related courses. It focuses on the following issues;
1. Detailed literature study of “state of the art” in learning systems for science education and physics in particular.
2. Brief background on the usage of computers in physics instruction.
3. Problems associated with the design of a Multimedia Learning System for selected topics of Physics with emphasis on Newtonian Mechanics.
4. Proposal of a better Multimedia Learning System for Newtonian Mechanics course.
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1.3 Research Questions
Q1: How can students (particularly of African descent) be motivated to study an important but difficult subject as Physics?
In addition to this, we can’t fully answer our main research question without answering the following related questions:
Q2: What is it that we want our students to learn?
Q3: In what ways is the current approach to introductory physics instruction inadequate?
Q4: What is the implication of using learning systems?
1.4 Thesis Structure
Chapter 2- Gives a brief background of the state of Physics Education in the 21st Century, the usage of computers in Physics instruction and the motivation for choosing to develop a Multimedia Learning System for selected topics of Physics in this work.
Chapter 3- Is associated with the detailed study of the “state of the art” of learning systems for Physics Education in general and Newtonian Mechanics in particular.
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Chapter 4- Depicts the problems associated with the design of Multimedia Learning Systems for selected topics of Physics with emphasis on Newtonian Mechanics in particular as well as a detailed analysis of the previous proposals to answering the research problem discussed in this thesis.
Chapter 5- Presents our proposed solution to the problem stated in Chapter 4 coupled with the design principles employed, their implementation, and results. Also contains a detailed description of our Integrated Environment and its various components.
Chapter 6- Finishes up with Conclusions, Summary of Contributions, Difficulties Encountered and Future Research.
1.5 Expected Contributions
This work is expected to make the following contributions to new knowledge;
 The research presented here is a contribution to the question, “How can we effectively motivate African students to study Physics?” It provides the necessary basic knowledge still lacking in many African schools for using the computer as a teaching aid.
 The creation of an environment to encourage Physics learners to acquire knowledge in self-regulated, self-motivated ways, and according to their own unique learning preferences.
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 A new approach to computer-based learning within an active and collaborative instruction-led process.
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