Winkelmann Research Group

Education Research

Our research group has a strong interest in understanding student learning in the laboratory and classroom, specifically for learning chemistry and nanotechnology at the college level. Three current projects involve the use of virtual reality technology in the laboratory, development of novel lab experiments, and gamification of the chemistry classroom.


Virtual Reality Laboratory Experiences
We seek a greater understanding of how the laboratory environment affect students’ learning and attitudes about chemistry. Thanks to advances in technology, students can conduct realistic lab experiments in a virtual reality (VR) or an augmented reality (AR) laboratory setting. Situated cognition theory suggests that learning is, in part, tied to the student’s physical environment but what does that mean when the laboratory is virtual? Researchers are just beginning to answer this question. You can read here about my group’s recent investigation of learning chemistry in the computer desktop-based virtual world of Second Life by and . (With a free Second Life account, you can visit our lab by .) The image on the right shows the virtual chemistry laboratory room that students use in Second LIfe.

We are interested in exploring learning in virtual worlds in different ways. On one hand, VR technology is not cheap so a VR lab experience is not accessible to every student. However, students can perform virtual alb epxeriments using computer software provided by textbook publishers. Such software is promoted as a useful pre-lab exercise that the student performs prior to the real world lab session. However, they may be useful as a full substitute. At the other end of the spectrum, we are also interested in pursuing the development of fully immersive VR activities for chemistry lab students.


Novel Laboratory Experiemnts for Chemistry and Nanotechnology
To prepare science and engineering students for their eventual careers, it is imperative that they learn about cutting edge research in chemistry and nanotechnology. This requires educators to adapt the latest published research experiments to a more student-friendly lab or classroom experience. My group collaborates with Drs. (Chemistry) and (Chemical Engineering) on many such projects in order to create a curriculum for our team-taught introductory nanotechnology lab course (CHM 1091) and the general chemistry lab. Our latest experiment, developed to teach students about the toxicity of nanoparticles, can be . That experiment and many others grow out of our group's chemical research interests. Another example, shown on the right, is the development of a general chemistry lab project inspired by lightning research conducted by Florida Tech faculty. Students used a spark from a Tesla coil (right image) to simulate conditions that cause chemical reactions in actual lightning (left image).


Gamification of Chemistry Lecture Classes
Motivation is a one important factor that contributes to students’ success in college. While educators should create a learning environment that promotes intrinsic motivation among students, external rewards can be effective as well. “Gamification” in education refers to creating a game-like structure in a course through the use of features common to video games, such as leader boards and badges. While gamification has shown some benefits to students’ learning in college courses, no studies have been performed among chemistry students. In addition, motivation is only one aspect of a course structure. I am interested in understanding how the effectiveness of gamification elements depends on other aspects of the course, such as the extent that students actively engage in learning or listen to lectures. 

Previous Education Research and Curriculum Development Projects
Click on the titles below to view descriptions of previous education projects that we have concluded.