Three Pedagogical Approaches to Introductory Physics Labs and Their Effects on Student Learning Outcomes

Persistent Link:
http://hdl.handle.net/10150/319900
Title:
Three Pedagogical Approaches to Introductory Physics Labs and Their Effects on Student Learning Outcomes
Author:
Chambers, Timothy
Issue Date:
2014
Publisher:
The University of Arizona.
Rights:
Copyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
Abstract:
This dissertation presents the results of an experiment that measured the learning outcomes associated with three different pedagogical approaches to introductory physics labs. These three pedagogical approaches presented students with the same apparatus and covered the same physics content, but used different lab manuals to guide students through distinct cognitive processes in conducting their laboratory investigations. We administered post-tests containing multiple-choice conceptual questions and free-response quantitative problems one week after students completed these laboratory investigations. In addition, we collected data from the laboratory practical exam taken by students at the end of the semester. Using these data sets, we compared the learning outcomes for the three curricula in three dimensions of ability: conceptual understanding, quantitative problem-solving skill, and laboratory skills. Our three pedagogical approaches are as follows. Guided labs lead students through their investigations via a combination of Socratic-style questioning and direct instruction, while students record their data and answers to written questions in the manual during the experiment. Traditional labs provide detailed written instructions, which students follow to complete the lab objectives. Open labs provide students with a set of apparatus and a question to be answered, and leave students to devise and execute an experiment to answer the question. In general, we find that students performing Guided labs perform better on some conceptual assessment items, and that students performing Open labs perform significantly better on experimental tasks. Combining a classical test theory analysis of post-test results with in-lab classroom observations allows us to identify individual components of the laboratory manuals and investigations that are likely to have influenced the observed differences in learning outcomes associated with the different pedagogical approaches. Due to the novel nature of this research and the large number of item-level results we produced, we recommend additional research to determine the reproducibility of our results. Analyzing the data with item response theory yields additional information about the performance of our students on both conceptual questions and quantitative problems. We find that performing lab activities on a topic does lead to better-than-expected performance on some conceptual questions regardless of pedagogical approach, but that this acquired conceptual understanding is strongly context-dependent. The results also suggest that a single “Newtonian reasoning ability" is inadequate to explain student response patterns to items from the Force Concept Inventory. We develop a framework for applying polytomous item response theory to the analysis of quantitative free-response problems and for analyzing how features of student solutions are influenced by problem-solving ability. Patterns in how students at different abilities approach our post-test problems are revealed, and we find hints as to how features of a free-response problem influence its item parameters. The item-response theory framework we develop provides a foundation for future development of quantitative free-response research instruments. Chapter 1 of the dissertation presents a brief history of physics education research and motivates the present study. Chapter 2 describes our experimental methodology and discusses the treatments applied to students and the instruments used to measure their learning. Chapter 3 provides an introduction to the statistical and analytical methods used in our data analysis. Chapter 4 presents the full data set, analyzed using both classical test theory and item response theory. Chapter 5 contains a discussion of the implications of our results and a data-driven analysis of our experimental methods. Chapter 6 describes the importance of this work to the field and discusses the relevance of our research to curriculum development and to future work in physics education research.
Type:
text; Electronic Dissertation
Keywords:
labs; PER; problem-solving; Physics; IRT
Degree Name:
Ph.D.
Degree Level:
doctoral
Degree Program:
Graduate College; Physics
Degree Grantor:
University of Arizona
Advisor:
Novodvorsky, Ingrid; Prather, Edward

Full metadata record

DC FieldValue Language
dc.language.isoen_USen
dc.titleThree Pedagogical Approaches to Introductory Physics Labs and Their Effects on Student Learning Outcomesen_US
dc.creatorChambers, Timothyen_US
dc.contributor.authorChambers, Timothyen_US
dc.date.issued2014-
dc.publisherThe University of Arizona.en_US
dc.rightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.en_US
dc.description.abstractThis dissertation presents the results of an experiment that measured the learning outcomes associated with three different pedagogical approaches to introductory physics labs. These three pedagogical approaches presented students with the same apparatus and covered the same physics content, but used different lab manuals to guide students through distinct cognitive processes in conducting their laboratory investigations. We administered post-tests containing multiple-choice conceptual questions and free-response quantitative problems one week after students completed these laboratory investigations. In addition, we collected data from the laboratory practical exam taken by students at the end of the semester. Using these data sets, we compared the learning outcomes for the three curricula in three dimensions of ability: conceptual understanding, quantitative problem-solving skill, and laboratory skills. Our three pedagogical approaches are as follows. Guided labs lead students through their investigations via a combination of Socratic-style questioning and direct instruction, while students record their data and answers to written questions in the manual during the experiment. Traditional labs provide detailed written instructions, which students follow to complete the lab objectives. Open labs provide students with a set of apparatus and a question to be answered, and leave students to devise and execute an experiment to answer the question. In general, we find that students performing Guided labs perform better on some conceptual assessment items, and that students performing Open labs perform significantly better on experimental tasks. Combining a classical test theory analysis of post-test results with in-lab classroom observations allows us to identify individual components of the laboratory manuals and investigations that are likely to have influenced the observed differences in learning outcomes associated with the different pedagogical approaches. Due to the novel nature of this research and the large number of item-level results we produced, we recommend additional research to determine the reproducibility of our results. Analyzing the data with item response theory yields additional information about the performance of our students on both conceptual questions and quantitative problems. We find that performing lab activities on a topic does lead to better-than-expected performance on some conceptual questions regardless of pedagogical approach, but that this acquired conceptual understanding is strongly context-dependent. The results also suggest that a single “Newtonian reasoning ability" is inadequate to explain student response patterns to items from the Force Concept Inventory. We develop a framework for applying polytomous item response theory to the analysis of quantitative free-response problems and for analyzing how features of student solutions are influenced by problem-solving ability. Patterns in how students at different abilities approach our post-test problems are revealed, and we find hints as to how features of a free-response problem influence its item parameters. The item-response theory framework we develop provides a foundation for future development of quantitative free-response research instruments. Chapter 1 of the dissertation presents a brief history of physics education research and motivates the present study. Chapter 2 describes our experimental methodology and discusses the treatments applied to students and the instruments used to measure their learning. Chapter 3 provides an introduction to the statistical and analytical methods used in our data analysis. Chapter 4 presents the full data set, analyzed using both classical test theory and item response theory. Chapter 5 contains a discussion of the implications of our results and a data-driven analysis of our experimental methods. Chapter 6 describes the importance of this work to the field and discusses the relevance of our research to curriculum development and to future work in physics education research.en_US
dc.typetexten
dc.typeElectronic Dissertationen
dc.subjectlabsen_US
dc.subjectPERen_US
dc.subjectproblem-solvingen_US
dc.subjectPhysicsen_US
dc.subjectIRTen_US
thesis.degree.namePh.D.en_US
thesis.degree.leveldoctoralen_US
thesis.degree.disciplineGraduate Collegeen_US
thesis.degree.disciplinePhysicsen_US
thesis.degree.grantorUniversity of Arizonaen_US
dc.contributor.advisorNovodvorsky, Ingriden_US
dc.contributor.advisorPrather, Edwarden_US
dc.contributor.committeememberNovodvorsky, Ingriden_US
dc.contributor.committeememberPrather, Edwarden_US
dc.contributor.committeememberCheu, Elliotten_US
dc.contributor.committeememberCronin, Alexanderen_US
dc.contributor.committeememberFleming, Seanen_US
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