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Evaluation and Assessment

Virtual vs Physical Learning

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Hollie Whalen Hollie Whalen 55 Points

When designing assessment/instructional activities that align with the NGSS 3-dimensional framework, do students respond better to virtual or physical activities? There is a third option as well, the use of both virtual and physical models in combination.

Al Byers Albert Byers 4478 Points


This is a good question, and I suspect there is no one right answer, as it may depend on the context of the situation, the target audience, and what you are trying to assess.

I think items and activities that attempt to demonstrate an applied understanding of a disciplinary core idea within an authentic context of a real life situation that may be relevant to many is one target to aim for.

For example, I remember attending a presentation at ITEEA delivered by Cary Sneider (NSTA's 2108 Robert e Carleton Award winner), where he provided a nice review of several NAEP digital online assessment items (one gold standard to review). The items were focused on technology and engineering, but these in part are included in STEM and 3D learning espoused in NGSS, right? The item we reviewed was about an iguana, and how students might design their cage to help sustain life based on parameters germane to the iguana's needs (applied principles in science intertwinning engineering design). The item and national results are available here: This is one "gold standard" example I feel comfortable sharing.

I'd add one other note directly to your question, IMHO I think it might be a combination of both hands-on AND online assessments (such as the NAEP example) where in the case of the hands-on component, students are demonstrating abilities to manipulate variables, or designed models/solutions, observing interactions/outcomes in investigation/soultion, collecting data for analysis and using that data as evidence to support their arguments/claims/explanations.

The same could be said for an online assessment (simulation/parsed existing data sets/visualizations), where students might not readily have access to a physical instantiation of the same, or the affordance of the simulation allows observations/data analysis/modeling that would otherwise be impossible to do, or manipulate/replicate, or repeat often under varied conditions, etc.

In the blended approach (hands-on and online), students can also compare/contrast physical models/experiments against a simluation of the same, Students might then be able to extrapolate effects over a long time, larger/varied set of data, and analyze the integritey of the digital modeling/simluation at hand (looking underneath the hood at the computational thinking/algorithm), where the model/simluation holds up, etc.

My 2 cents! Thanks for asking the question.

This response is coming at the question more from an instructional technology viewpoint and I'm sure other NGSS assessment experts may embellish, disreard, or greatly enhance this contribution!

Colleen Hampton Colleen Hampton 45 Points

I think it depends on your audience.  I work primarily with K-5 students, so hands-on is definitely more engaging than anything virtual.  However, I do think it's important that by the time that students get to the 4th/5th grade, some virtual components have been introduced to them.  As I'm expanding my knowledge of NGSS, I'm realizing that it will be almost impossible to always have hands-on activities and assessments.  An almost comical example is the "Road Kill" activity that we did at a workshop I attended earlier this month.  Seeing the 10- or 14-day time lapse video of the dead raccoon decomposing on the side of the road would have been totally impossible as a live, in-school activity, or even out in the schoolyard or neighborhood!  Someone would have complained about the unsightliness/stench/attraction of scavengers/etc, and rightly so!  The raccoon would have been removed by someone, and with it your lesson.  Watching the video also drastically cut down the amount of time required.  So for my current position as a STEM Coordinator/Science Resource person at the K-5 levels, I will do as many hands-on activities and assessments as possible, and gradually introduce virtual components to my older students.

Rachel Gomez Rachel Gomez 100 Points

With traditional physical classrooms, both the teachers and learners need to be present in the same place for the exchange of information and interaction. Virtual classes, on the other hand, provide seamless connectivity between both ends, irrespective of their location. Individuals can participate in a virtual class through a web browser.


This may help you,

Rachel Gomez

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