Describing What College Physics Students Learned and How They Learned.
In this study, the author compared the epistemological beliefs between students who were more successful (high gainers) and students who were less successful (low gainers) in a Mechanics standard test. The study involved five high gainers and five low gainers randomly chosen from a Physics class at Central Mindanao University. Epistemological beliefs were determined from the students' descriptions on what and how they learned physics concepts as reflected in their weekly journals. Findings reveal that both groups viewed physics as made up of CONCEPTS. To the high gainers, CONCEPTS are coherent and interrelated giving a clear picture of a big system that form the basis for explaining physical phenomena; while to the low gainers, physics CONCEPTS are isolated bits of information and ideas. On how they learned what they learned, high gainers believe that knowledge has to be reconstructed from what was previously learned, and being less dependent on AUTHORITY, preferred learning through discussion and REASONING after careful OBSERVING A PHENOMENON and INTERPRETATION. The low gainers, on the other hand, believe that physics can be learned from AUTHORITY by carefully listening to their lectures and OBSERVING what they demonstrate.
Keywords - Conceptual Gains, Epistemological beliefs, weekly-journal, Physics Concepts
Epistemological beliefs refer to one's understanding of the nature of knowledge and how these are obtained (Hammer and Elby, 2002; Hofer & Pintrich, 1997; Schommer, 1998). At the beginning, some students believe that knowledge in physics is certain, consisting of facts, formulas, and problem-solving methods, mostly disconnected from everyday thinking; these beliefs are referred to as naive. Few others tend to believe that knowledge is tentative and deals with a unified, coherent, interconnected system of ideas; these beliefs are also held by experts, thus considered sophisticated. The former view tends to encourage learning by memorizing while the later promotes learning by reconstructing and refining one's current understanding.
Various studies showed the influence that epistemological beliefs have on learning orientations (Songer and Linn, 1991; Tsai, 1998). Schommer, et al., (1992) also found that believing on knowledge as simple, which means knowledge consists of isolated facts has negative effects on students' comprehension and problem-solving in mathematics. The belief that knowledge is tentative and changing, as opposed to certain and fixed, were exhibited by students who gave wrong interpretations of controversial evidence (Kardash & Scholes, 1996, as cited in Schommer-Aikins, 2002). Thus, students' beliefs appear to influence how they process and interpret information.
By asking her students to write a tentative conclusion about a passage that presents several theories on the issue, Schommer (1990) found that the more students believe in knowledge as certain and learning as quick, the more oversimplified are their conclusions. Schommer et al., (1992) also found by believing that knowledge is simple, which means knowledge consists of isolated facts.
Epistemological beliefs function as constraints on the knowledge acquisition process that could inhibit students to learn even in effective research-based programs (Vosniadou, 2004). The belief that knowledge comes from an authority constrained them to take responsibility of their learning process (Mol, Stathopoulou, Kollias & Vosniadou, 2003). The growing recognition of student epistemologies and its influence on learning led to the realization of the need to address them in instruction. For example, Redish (2003) conducted a study to identify structures in students' epistemological reasoning in order to design lessons for helping students develop stronger meta-learning skills. The identification of epistemology as a category of informal knowledge may provide teachers an alternative interpretive lens for understanding students' ideas and behavior, assessing abilities and needs, and adapting plans and strategies (Hammer, 1995). It would be easy to assume that most students are not aware of their epistemological beliefs (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). Promoting students' awareness of their epistemological beliefs and encouraging students to develop more sophisticated epistemologies were found effective in improving student learning in physics (Elby, 2001). Encouraging students to ask questions regarding their epistemologies (Harper, Etkina & Lin, no date) and to reflect on their epistemologies (May & Etkina, 2002) were also found positively correlated with greater conceptual understanding.
OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
This study investigated the epistemological beliefs of a select group of Introductory College Physics students at Central Mindanao University, Musuan, Bukidnon as they studied and tackled tasks related to force and motion. Conducted in a period of one semester, this study explored students' epistemological beliefs and their relationship to conceptual understanding while students were studying force and motion in an active-learning classroom. To capture their epistemological beliefs and describe their characteristics, the researcher had the students write weekly journals while reflecting on the activities they had in their physics class. By understanding the characteristics and role of epistemological beliefs through repeated reminders and self-reflections, it is reasonable to expect a more fruitful learning experience leading to greater conceptual understanding.
Specifically, this study aimed to look into how students describe what and how they learned physics concepts. Also, it attempted to compare views of students having high gains with those having low gains in standard physics concept test.
The sample of students in this investigation was taken from the group of engineering students enrolled in Introductory Physics during the first semester at Central Mindanao University, Musuan, Bukidnon. The topics covered in the course were introductory mechanics, heat, and temperature. Weekly, they attended an hour lecture session three times and a three-hour laboratory session.
The same instructor handled both the lecture and laboratory classes of the participating group. Teaching and learning methods used were lectures with visual presentations mixed with active-learning strategies in which students interacted with peers and instructor through discussions, group problem solving, lecture-demonstrations, figuring out exercises, and concept tests. For the students to experience the methods of science, the chosen exercises and experiments had activities for careful observation, prediction and finding possible explanations, test, analyze and interpret results, to be able to draw a conclusion.
Students were made to write weekly reports while thinking of the activities they had for the week. Reports were based on their reflections on the following four open-ended questions:
1. What did you learn in the laboratory this week? How did you learn it?
2. What did you learn in the lectures this week? How did you learn it?
3. What questions remain unclear?
4. If you were the professor, what questions would you ask to determine if your students understood the material?
These questions were developed by Etkina (2000) and employed by May and Etkina (2002). From the weekly reports of their subjects, they came up with 14 codes. To code the reflections written by the students, the coding scheme developed by Etkina (2000) was used with author's permission. The coding scheme has three categories under which are code indications as listed below.
What they say they learned:
1. Formula - equations or other mathematical statements without elaboration on their underlying meaning.
2. Vocabulary - definitions or other physics language conventions.
3. Concept - qualitative descriptions or mentions of concepts, ideas, and relationships.
4. Skill - laboratory design skills, measurement skills, or problem-solving methods and skills.
How they say they learned:
5. Observed phenomenon--pure observation.
6. Constructed concept from observation - learned a concept simply by observing a phenomenon or demonstration.
7. Reasoned/derived in lecture - followed the reasoning process by which the large class came to a concept or formula, by using prior knowledge and experience, logic, mathematics, and/or analogies.
8. Reasoned/derived in the lab - actively reasoned by oneself or in a small group to come to a concept or formula.
9. Learned by doing - learned a concept, definition, or formula by using it, or learned a skill or process by performing or practicing it.
10. Authority - told or convinced by instructor, friend, textbook, or other authority figure.
11. Predicted/tested - predicted the outcome of an experiment and then conducted or observed the experiment.
12. Predicted/tested/interpreted - conducted an experiment to test an idea and interpreted the results of that test.
Inferences about their views:
13. Applicability of knowledge - belief that physical laws or concepts can and should be applied to new problems or to real-life situations.
14. Concern for coherence - belief that physical laws and concepts fit together coherently, or at least should agree with each other with common sense.
The coding scheme of Etkina considers codes 7,8,12 and 14 "favorable codes' as these indicate a student's preference to constructing knowledge by reasoning using previos knowledge or observed phenomenon, validation of ideas through experiment and concern for coherence. Codes 5,10,11 are "unfavorable codes" because these indicate a student's observations without justification or meaning, referring to authority as unquestionable source of knowlesge and describing experiments without any analysis.
To get the samples of ten students for this study, the class was ranked accorcing to their normal gain in the Force Concept Inventory (FCI). This 30-item standard test in mechanics, developed by Hestenes, D., Wells, M., & Swackhamer, G. (1992), was given to the class at the beginning and end of the semester. The normal gain, which is independent of the pretest, is a better indicator of the extent to which treatment is effective than is either the gain or the posttest (Hake, 1998). Six students with high normal gains in FCI and six students with low FCI normal gains were selected through stratified sampling. For technical reasons, data of only five samples per group were considered for final analysis.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The students' weekly reports revealed their epistemological beliefs and verified through interviews. Regarding what they learned, both groups frequently mentioned CONCEPTS and least about SKILLS. They differed much on FORMULA and VOCABULARY. The low gainers mentioned FORMULA more often than the high gainers, while the high gainers mentioned VOCABULARY more often than the low gainers. Regarding the question of how they learned what they learned, both groups recognized the importance of an AUTHORITY. Low gainers indicated that they prefer learning by OBSERVING A PHENOMENON even if no explanation goes with what is observed while high gainers prefer learning by REASONING IN THE LECTURE. Reports also indicated their CONCERN FOR COHERENCE but only few indicated the APPLICABILITY OF KNOWLEDGE.
The weekly reports disclosed what students think of the nature of physics. Both groups indicated physics as made up of CONCEPTS, but the groups viewed concepts in different ways as exposed in the interviews. Some excerpts taken from the interviews are shown in Table 1.
To the low gainers, the view of physics as CONCEPTS means physics deals with ideas, a mere listing of words and pieces of information without mention or explanation of meaning and connectivity. These concepts seem to be bits of facts they just read or heard during the discussion.
The high gainers appeared to be more reflective about what and how they said they learned. In the interviews, they gave many insights concerning the first question. To them, CONCEPTS in physics are interrelated ideas and that the relations can provide the basis for an explanation. They believe in the connection of what they observed and discussed to events outside of the classroom as articulated through their responses.
On the question, "How did you learn what you claimed you learned?", both groups indicated their dependence on the AUTHORITY. The low gainers tended to rely on authority for facts. Most of them were not critical of the information or materials given. They believed that physics can be learned by observing or by doing but without mentioned of what they learned in the process. Although some of them claimed to have learned from the group discussion, they were mostly listeners rather than active learners. Mostly they were passive learners and believed that learning is quick. Some excerpts from the interview are given in Table 3a and 3b.
High gainers believed that inputs in physics given by an AUTHORITY are not merely to be transferred but should be analyzed and criticized to form new knowledge. They had varied ways of approaching knowledge acquisition. Having understood the materials and what there is to learn, they felt that they can do many things with their knowledge. There is an indication that the high gainers were aware of their prior knowledge in physics. They indicated the need to reconstruct what they know already by evaluating new materials through group discussions and reasoning.
The high gainers tended to use strategies other than memorizing and manifested the ability to describe and explain what they observed in terms of what were learned. There is an indication that the high gainers were aware of their prior knowledge in physics. They indicated the need to reconstruct what they know already by evaluating new materials through group discussions and reasoning. They believed that inputs in physics given by an authority are not merely to be transferred but should be analyzed and criticized to form new knowledge. They had varied ways of approaching knowledge acquisition. Having understood the materials and what there is to learn, they felt that they can do many things with their knowledge.
The students' weekly reports and interviews revealed how they say they learned. Both groups mentioned AUTHORITY but differed in how these should be dealt with. While low gainers are merely receptors of information, the higher gainers reasoned and build their ideas with the help from peers and instructor. They also indicated OBSERVED PHENOMENON. The low gainers just mentioned they made observations without giving any explanation or description about what they observed, while high gainers described what they are learning from the observed events and tried to connect what they observed to the concepts being learned. The low gainers mentioned having learned by having PREDICTED/TESTED but only because it was fun doing, while the high gainers mentioned PREDICTED/TESTED/INTERPRETED because they tried to figure out or translate their observations into something meaningful for them. High gainers are more reflective and involved in the learning process than low gainers are.
The students' weekly reports and interviews revealed their views about what physics knowledge is and how it can be learned. There seems to be a trend in the epistemological beliefs of the more successful (high gainers) in achieving conceptual understanding of force and motion that vary from the epistemological beliefs of the less successful ones (low gainers).
Both groups indicated that physics is learning CONCEPTS but only the high gainers were able to integrate what they learned and connect what they observed to the concepts being learned. Low gainers seemed to believe in knowledge as simple while the high gainers believed that knowledge consists of interrelated ideas that provide explanations. The high gainers preferred learning VOCABULARY to FORMULA being more interested in meanings and descriptions; and they considered equations as expressions of relationships. Low gainers, on the other hand, favored FORMULA to VOCABULARY; for them equations are tools to solve a problem and get the correct answers without concern of their meaning.
On how they learned what they learned, both groups mentioned learning from AUTHORITY. High gainers are less dependent on authority, yet still consider the significance of authority in shaping their ideas. The low gainers, on the other hand, believe that physics can be learned from authority by carefully listening to their lectures and observing what they demonstrate. High gainers believe that knowledge has to be reconstructed from what was previously learned, even in the early years, through discussion and REASONING after careful OBSERVING A PHENOMENON. High gainers showed responsibility to their learning as manifested in their eagerness to describe, clarify and INTERPRET their observations.
Low gainers preferred to just watch but could hardly express or describe what they were watching while OBSERVING A PHENOMENON. Low gainers mentioned learning by PREDICTING/TESTING but could not articulate any meaning or interpretation. Bing more of the passive type, low gainers could not contribute much to the discussion and preferred to listen.
The groups also differed in how much they write about what and how they learned. High gainers indicated in their reports plenty of thoughts and personal involvement in their learning; while the low gainers were less reflective of what they were learning and doing.
Elby, A. 2001 Helping physics students learn how to learn, American Journal of Physics, 69, Suppl. 1 S54 - S64.
Etkina, E. 2000 Weekly reports : a two-way feedback tool, Science Education, 84, 594-605.
Hammer, D. 1995 Epistemological considerations in teaching introductory physics, Science Education, 79, 393-413.
Hammer, D., & Elby, A. 2002 On the form of a personal epistemology. In B. K. Hofer & P. R. Pintrich (Eds.), Personal Epistemology: The Psychology of Beliefs about Knowledge and Knowing (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum), pp. 169-190.
Harper, K., Etkina, E., & Lin, Y. (n.d.) Encouraging and analyzing student questions in a large physics course: meaningful patterns for instructors, (Manuscript given by Etkina, E.)
Hestenes, D., Wells, M., & Swackhamer, G. 1992 Force Concept Inventory, The Physics teacher, 30, 141-158.
Hestenes, D., & Halloun, I. 1995 Interpreting the Force Concept Inventory: A Response to the Critique by Huffman and Heller. The Physics Teacher, 33, 502,504-506.
Lising, L., & Elby, A. 2005 The impact of epistemology on learning: a case study for introductory physics, American Journal of Physics, 73, (4), 372-382
May, D.B., & Etkina, E. 2002 College physics students' epistemological self-reflections and its relationship to conceptual learning, American Journal of Physics, 70, (12)1249-1258.
Mol, A., Stathopoulou, C, Kollias, V., & Vosniadou, S. 2003 Gradual learning of science in a CSCL environment and the quest of epistemologically sophisticated learners, Proceedings of the 3rd IEEE internatioal conference on advanced learning technologies (CALT'03). From http://www.curo.cscl.org.site/.
Redish, E. F. 2002 Developing student expectations in algebra-based physics, presentation at the Conference on Integrating Science and Math Education Research, orono, Maine, June 24, 2002, on line at http://www.physics.umd.edu/perg/talks/redish/Maine02/EFRMaineExpects.pdf
Schommer, M. 1990 Effects of beliefs about the nature of knowledge on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, (3)498-504.
Schommer, M. 1998 The influence of age and education on epistemological beliefs, British Journal of Educational Psychology, 68, 551-562.
Schommer-Aikins, M. 2002 An evolving framework for an epistemological belief system. In B.K. Hofer & P.R. Pintrich (Eds) Personal Epistemology: The psychology of beliefs about knowledge and knowing, Mahwah, NJ Erlbaum, 103-118.
Songer, N.B., & Linn, M.C. 1991 How do students' views of science influence knowledge interpretation, Journal of research in Science Teaching, 28, (9)761-784.
Tsai, C-C. 1998 An analysis of scientific epistemological beliefs and learning orientations of Taiwanese eight graders, Science Education, 82, 473-489.
Vosniadou, S. 2004 Exploring the relationship between epistemological beliefs and Physics understanding, (from the web) http://www.cs.phs.uoa.gr/el/staff/vosniadou/epistimological_beliefs.pdf
TERESITA D. TAGANAHAN
ORCID No. 0000-0001-6948-7257
Department of Physics, College of Arts and Sciences Central Mindanao University, Musuan, Maramag Bukidnon
Table 1. Interview excerpts comparing the group's meaning of CONCEPTS. Group What they Some excerpts taken from the learned interview Code Description Low CONCEPTS listing of "I learned about speed and gainers words, acceleration--that is when the ideas, body goes up, the speed is observations; decreasing; but when it goes No explanation down, the speed is increasing." given; ".. learned rotation, torque and moment of inertia" " ..about free falling body... that is it will fall because of gravity and friction." simple, "I learned about force by fixed and watching the things that fall concepts from trees. I realized that the are isolated, concepts on free-fall are true." High CONCEPTS "...the topic torque is gainers related to the rotation of bodies. For example, opening a door requires torque, and it would be easier to open the door if door knobs are placed far from the hinges. The seesaw connected moves easily if one sits at ideas; explain the farthest side of the relationship seesaw. In both cases, the torque is coherent more effective because of interrelated greater moment arm." giving a clear picture "I should understand velocity of a big system and acceleration to understand and form why it is advised to slow the basis down on slippery roads. for explaining The faster the speed, the physical greater its acceleration if made phenomena to stop, because acceleration is how fast you can stop your car. Acceleration is the change of speed divided by time." "Physics is complex, deals with relationships, the first topic related to another topic and that topic related to still another topic. For example, vectors are connected to the velocity, velocity to acceleration, acceleration to force and so on. ." "... to determine the acceleration we need to know the velocity before and after, if there is a change. However, the change is not only from, let us say, 5m/sec to 10m/sec, we also need to know their directions because velocity is a vector. It matters if they are in the same direction, opposite or perpendicular from each other. That will matter." Table 2. Interview excerpts illustrating the low gainers' meaning of FORMULA and high gainers' meaning of VOCABULARY Group What they learned Some excerpts taken from the CODE Description interview Low FORMULA "From my point of view, gainers equation is important because just when you already know how to get the value, but there is no means of certain equation, you checking will find it difficult to whether determine if the solution solution is is correct." correct; used to verify "It is important because if theory or if there was no equation, law is true; there's no way to get the tool for final result; therefore, problem we cannot tell that the solving theory or that law is true." ....formulas must satisfy the concepts. like for example F = ma." "I learned about formulas and problem-solving...... like if you know the equation of motion, it is easier to solve the problem." High VOCABULARY "if you know the definition gainers of concepts, like momentum is mass times velocity; p = m x v then formulas can be derived." "To learn concepts, I get meaning, first the meaning of the definitions, concepts. If you know the explanation; concepts, you have an tool in idea what to do with the deriving problem, how to solve. formula With the concepts, there is also an explanation on how to solve." "I made myself clear about the meaning of the concepts to derive an equation ...." "...explanations deal with concepts but concepts have to be carefully defined." Table 3a. Interview Excerpts showing group's responses on how they learn what they learned Group How they learned Some excerpts taken from the CODE Description interview "I learn by reading the book... I watch TV. I learn most by listening from the teacher's lectures." Low AUTHORITY Book "I exerted effort by researching gainers Teacher with the computer. .... TV I look for problems and read those which have answers. Then I know how to get it." Computer "I prefer that the teacher give Classmates a step by step solution to a problem that I can copy..." Reliable "I just listened to my source classmates; usually I of information just agreed with what they say) "I listened to your lecture ma'am...I have so many questions in my mind, but I am not sure about my question,... they might be stupid ones." "... I got confused, so I solicited the ideas of my classmates...." "There are some factors to consider if a person is reliable in the field or not like,... I'll try to reason out, I'll ask to prove me wrong, I think I'll have to change what I believed earlier. High AUTHORITY Teacher "... I understand more what gainers Classmates is in the book when I Books observe what is happening " Source of "In the think-pair-share activities, information we shared ideas. We that have to contributed; we listened at the be discussed, reasons to determine checked, whose idea will be considered analyzed, final. I also learned when reasoned with, the teacher asked questions validated because I was able to express my ideas. Expressing my ideas is important because if this not so right, it can still be changed. I already have an idea of the topic, but it is not really exact, I just understood a little." "... the biggest portion of what I learned was through the discussions and illustrations of the teacher. However, again, there must be an exchange of ideas between teacher and classmates. With the use of illustrations and through interactions, the side of the students can be heard; unlike when only the teacher is talking. Interaction is important for both sides to understand each other." Table 3b. Interview excerpts showing group's responses on how they learn what they learned Group How they learned Some excerpts taken from the CODE Description interview Low OBSERVED "I learn by observing gainers PHENOMENON things as they happen..." PREDICTED/ "...when we performed TESTED experiment in the laboratory about the topic, we performed and I learned a lot because it is actual. I learned more in the lab because when you discussed, certain things need to be illustrated. It is much better when it is performed." "I think I preferred doing it Observe because it is fun and doing it; events it is easier to understand why related to certain things happened like topic but this and that; in the discussion, made no one had to imagine what happened. explanation We can easily understand when we or mention can see what we are doing. We of what was enjoyed when we discovered learned things. For example, on the lesson about torque, we learned that we can determine the mass of a body using a standard mass and stick. Before I thought, it was impossible. The problem we have is lack of facilities, because what we can also learn depend on the available facilities, they are our guide when we perform. Better facilities will help improve our learning." "I learned when we performed experiment about the topic, from your discussions in the laboratory, we performed and I learned a lot because it is actual. I learned more in the lab because when you discussed, certain things need to be illustrated. It is much better when it is performed." High OBSERVED "There were times when I gainers PHENOMENON learned by observing a PREDICTED/ demonstration. For example TESTED in the demonstration on INTERPRETED free fall, I predicted that the heavy object will reach the ground first, but I was wrong, they fell at the same time. So when a coin and a piece of paper were dropped I thought they fall at the same time but again I was wrong. Observe I got confused, so I solicited events the ideas of my classmates. related to Then I learned that there is topic Tried more air resistance in the to make an piece of paper that is why it explanation did not fall straight like or the others." clarification of what was "Discussion also helped, for learned example on our way home we have to go slow because we were aware of our kinetic energy. We can apply what we learned. When we were having lunch, when the fork was raised, we said that the potential energy is related to the height. So we discussed things related to what we did." High OBSERVED "Performing experiments gainers PHENOMENON about the topic, also from PREDICTED/ your discussions then we TESTED performed later. I learned more INTERPRETED from the actual exercise. For example, on the friction exercise, as the weight on the block was increased the weight on the other end of the string was also increased. The weight on the block increased the normal force on the block while increasing the weight on the other end of the string increased the force that pulled the block to Observe counteract friction. So events increasing the normal force also related increases the frictional force." to topic Tried "...the biggest portion of what to make an I learned was through explanation the discussions and illustrations or of the teacher. However, clarification again, there must be an exchange of what of ideas between was teacher and classmates. With learned the use of illustrations and through interactions, the side of the students can be heard; unlike when only the teacher is talking. Interaction is important for both sides to understand each other." "I could say that I understood if I can compare, describe, explain, and make the connections. if I can answer questions. I study hard so that I will not be ignorant of what others might be talking about."
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Taganahan, Teresita D.|
|Publication:||Liceo Journal of Higher Education Research|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2013|
|Previous Article:||Determinants of Quality Engineering Education in Northeastern Mindanao, Philippines.|
|Next Article:||Private-Public Sector Partnership in Juvenile Delinquency Prevention among the Urban Poor: a Study on Poverty Alleviation.|