Collaborative Research: Developing a Student Learning Strategy to Bridge Virtual Learning and Hands-on Activity in Organic Solar Energy Education

Project No.
PI Name
Gon Namkoong
Old Dominion University


Abstract 1

Collaborative Research: Developing a Student Learning Strategy to Bridge Virtual Learning and Hands-on Activity in Organic Solar Energy Education

Presentation Type
Yonghee Suh, Old Dominion University Hargson Yoon, Norfolk State University


Traditionally, either virtual or physical hands-on activities as part of an inquiry-based learning have been adapted to promote student learning experiences. Consequently, there has been much intensive discussion about the pros and cons between virtual vs. physical learning as a more effective method of promoting student learning. The virtual learning allows students to see and understand the underlying principles with graphical visualization that cannot be observed directly from physical activities. Therefore, a more complete understanding of theoretical concepts can be achieved with personalized experiences. These activities are also often performed at their own pace, thereby increasing studentsメ motivation, interests, and retention of knowledge. Another argument for virtual learning is that with physical hands-on activities alone, students often struggle with an abrupt leap from theory to practice. However, physical activities still present students many more variety of multifaceted complex situations where outcomes do not turn out as expected, a recognized limitation of the virtual world. In these cases, physical hand-on activities provide discovery-based learning which allows students to investigate what could have gone モwrongヤ and モwhyヤ. Given their strengths and limitations, the ideal strategy would seem to employ both types of hands-on activities whenever possible. Particularly, the balanced approach of combining virtual and physical hands-on activities can consolidate students' theoretical understanding and surely make the synergistic transition from theory to real problems


1. Develop intuitive, comprehensive, integrated virtual laboratories consisting of optical and electrical models that will be used by students to test, formulate, and verify knowledge and underlying principles.
2. Develop inquiry-based learning modules that allow students to engage in combined virtual and physical hands-on activities to broaden studentsメ motivation and retention of knowledge.
3. Assess the impact of modules on studentsメ conceptual understanding and performance of inquiry-based project by measuring studentsメ knowledge, reasoning skills, attitudes, and perceptions.
4. Disseminate developed modules into other sites and undertake outreach to K-12.


Both theoretical and engineering aspects are reinforced by integrating モinteractive virtual laboratoriesヤ and モphysical hands-on activitiesヤ in order to efficiently guide them in preparing, confronting, and tackling the open-ended, inquiry-based problem with solid theoretical knowledge and principles. In this case, students were required to form a team and weekly meet to work as a group. After each group identified a term project, students revisited or learned new background theories and principles of organic solar cells and identified and tested a hypothesis of new design of organic solar cells before they were actually engaged in physical hands-on activities. Once virtual structures of organic solar cells were designed, each group accordingly fabricated and tested organic solar cells. When engaged with physical hands-on activities, virtual laboratories were also used to identify the disparity between theoretical and experimental results and additional activities designed to interpret the differences. This practice truly allowed students to experience the entire scientific process from solid theoretical reasoning obtained from virtual laboratories, to designing their own activities, to initial observations, and to follow-on activities based on the results of earlier activities. In this way, this project enhanced students reasoning, investigative, and problem solving skills as well as studentsメ engagement.


Based on assessment outcomes from an external evaluator, we found that virtual laboratories allowed students to master underlying principles of device physics of organic solar cells with graphical visualization that cannot be observed directly from physical activities.
Students found the virtual lab experience effective or very effective in:
ユ Linking theory to real-world applications (100%)
ユ Managing a complex and open-ended project (100%)
ユ Helping them work effectively in a team (100%)
Student also reported that the virtual lab experiences require them to always or almost always use the following knowledge, skills and dispositions such as:
ユ Logic and reasoning (82.7%)
ユ Problem solving (72.8%)
ユ Team work skills (81.8%)
ユ Communication skills (100%)
ユ Common sense (90.9%)
Students also perceived that combined virtual lab and physical hands-on activities helped them improve knowledge of theoretical formulas very effectively. Lastly, students also strongly agreed that:
ユ They found the use of hands-on experiences in the course interesting (81.8%)
ユ They recommend the course to others (90.9%)

Broader Impacts

This project involved the creation of a new course and integration of virtual and physical hands-on activities into the capstone senior design course. Many undergraduate students registered for a new course and formed teams and performed the project. In addition, students from ODU and students from NSU performed the capstone senior projects. Our team participated in NanoDays event held at the Childrenメs Museum of Virginia in Portsmouth, VA. The NanoDays is a community-based event designed to foster public awareness, engagement and understanding of nanoscale science and technology in a nationwide event taking place at science museums, research centers, and universities over the country. In this event, we presented and demonstrated the solar energy conversion technology focusing on how organic solar and nanotechnology can improve the efficiency and bring the solar energy to future energy sources. Over 200 audience from kindergarten to elementary schools participated in the event

Unexpected Challenges

Findings from the survey, showed students are struggling with Planning (47%), Knowledge of theoretical concepts (47%), Knowledge of theoretical formulas (53%), Logic and reasoning (47%), and Trial & error testing (47%). This is because theoretical formulas are very complex, covering optics and semiconductor physics. Based on the survey, we modify Matlab program to be more stable and give more detailed instruction to students so that they can operate virtual laboratories easily.


K. Fu, G. Namkoong, S. Matthew, E. M. Younes, I. Namkoong, and T. M. Abdel-Fattah. 'Stability of High javascript:WebForm_DoPostBackWithOptions(new WebForm_PostBackOptions('ctl00$ContentPlaceHolder1$ctl01$btnPartialSaveNext', '', true, '', '', false, true))Bandgap P3HT:PCBM Organic Solar Cells Using TiOx Interfacial Layer,' International Journal of Photoenergy, Vol. 2014, pp 784724 (2014).