Roll - Productive Failure in a Chemistry Virtual Lab

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Productive Failure in a Chemistry Virtual Laboratory (Roll)

Summary Table

PIs Ido Roll, David Yaron
Other Contributers Michael Karabinos (Instructional Designer, Carnegie Mellon), Sophia Nussbaum (Course Instructor and Instructional Designer, University of British Columbia)
Study Start Date March, 2010
Study End Date March, 2011
LearnLab Site University of British Columbia, Freshman Laboratory Course
LearnLab Course Chemistry
Number of Students 768
Total Participant Hours 768
Data available in DataShop Dataset: ChemistyrUBCSpring2010BufferStudy
  • Pre/Post Test Score Data: TBD
  • Paper or Online Tests: TBD
  • Scanned Paper Tests: TBD
  • Blank Tests: TBD
  • Answer Keys: TBD


This study is occuring in a set of online materials that students complete in preparation for a physical laboratory experience involving the design of a buffer solution. At the beginning of the online activities, students complete a set of activities in the ChemCollective virtual laboratory. In past years, these virtual lab activities have following a direct instruction approach, in which students add acid to a buffered versus unbuffered solution and compare the effects. This study adds an additional condition in which students are asked to create their own buffer solution, with only minimal guidance. While not much guidance is given, the task is designed to attract students' attention to deep features of the domain . This is a complex task which is the topic of the following instruction. Students are not expected to succeeed at the task in this initial exploratory phase, but the hypothesis is that by identifying the deep structure of the domain, students would be more likely to learn better from the subsequent instruction. Thus, engaging with the task at the beginning will better prepare them for the formal knowledge which is to follow.

Background & Significance


Research questions

Will engagement with an initial exploratory phase of instruction promote student learning, even though the students are likely to fail at meeting the goals of the exploratory activity (designing a buffer solution with a specified pH and buffer capacacity)?

Independent Variables

Dependent Variables




Further Information

This study is currently under design and will be carried out at UBC following the break the university is taking for the winter olympics (data collection begins on March 1, 2010).

Connections to Other Studies

Annotated Bibliography


Future Plans