Learning and the variation in focus among physics students when using a computer simulation


  • Åke Ingerman IT-university, Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg Department of Physics, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
  • Cedric Linder Department of Physics, Uppsala University Department of Physics, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
  • Delia Marshall Department of Physics, University of the Western Cape
  • Shirley Booth Department of Education, Lund University School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa




This article presents a qualitative analysis of the essential characteristics of university students’ “focus of awareness” whilst engaged with learning physics related to the Bohr model with the aid of a computer simulation. The research is located within the phenomenographic research tradition, with empirical data comprising audio and video recordings of student discussions and interactions, supplemented by interviews. Analysis of this data resulted in descriptions of four qualitatively distinct focuses: Doing the Assignment, Observing the Presentation, Manipulating the Parameters and Exploring the Physics. The focuses are further elucidated in terms of students’ perceptions of learning and the nature of physics. It is concluded that the learning outcomes possible for the students are dependent on the focus that is adopted in the pedagogical situation. Implications for teaching physics using interactive-type simulations can be drawn through epistemological and meta-cognitive considerations of the kind of mindful interventions appropriate to a specific focus.