This thesis presents research into improving learning outcomes in laboratories. It was hypothesised that domain specific context can aid students in understanding the relationship between a laboratory (as a proxy for reality), the theoretical model being investigated within the laboratory activity and the real world. Specifically, the research addressed whether adding domain context to a laboratory activity could improve students' ability to identify the strengths and limitations of models as predictors of real-world behaviour. The domain context was included in a laboratory activity with the use of a remote radiation lab set within a context-rich virtual world.
The empirical investigation used a pretest-posttest control group design to assess whether there was a statistically significant difference in the learning outcome between a treatment group who completed the lab in a contextualised virtual world, and the control group who conducted the activity in an empty virtual world. The results showed that there were no statistically significant differences between the groups and therefore there are cases where contextualising a laboratory activity will not have an effect on students' ability to identify the strengths and limitations of models as predictors of real-world behaviour.
This research postulates that previous exposure to the model, the level of awareness students had of the context and the lack time available for reflection may have masked or attenuated the effect of the context.
This research has contributed a framework for the analysis and design of domain context in laboratory activities, and an interface for integrating iLabs laboratories into the Open Wonderland virtual world. It has explicitly clarified the relationship between context, labs, models and the real world. Most significantly, this research has contributed knowledge to the field of laboratory learning outcomes and the understanding of how domain context affects laboratory activities.