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Research Vision

The introductory classes undergoing development as part of the PhysTEC project are part of the education research effort at the University of Arkansas. The goal of that research is to model and understand how science classes function in complete detail. As such, the courses are characterized and measured in great detail. These measurements are being used to increase the understanding of the operation of a science class while giving bright undergraduates the opportunity to experience research. Each of the projects below was carried out as an honors thesis project. Three of the four projects were performed by students who have a long term goal of working in education. While not the primary goal of the PhysTEC project, the research presented here increases our understanding of the operation of science courses and further informs our development decisions. Select the title of each section to view a talk or poster on the research.

Arkansas Conceptual Evaluation Construction Tool A preliminary version of the tool to design and automatically construct conceptual electricity and magnetism exams has been released. Access the tool here or read about the tool here. The tool is based on the research described below.



The Spectrum of Solution Primitives Found in Conceptual Electricity and Magnetism Problems in Introductory Physics Textbooks.

Jessica Clanton evaluated the distribution of small pieces of conceptual physics problem solutions, called solution primitives. She characterized the distribution of the solution primative for seven popular textbooks. She presented this work in a special poster session at the Summer 2007 AAPT meeting. Click here for the poster. Jessica is teaching physics and math at Arkansas Tech - Mountain Home. This research formed Jessica's Masters project. She is currently teaching at the junior college level. Richard Campbell who intends to teach science at the high school level has continued and refined the research. His most current findings were presented as a poster at the April 2008 APS meeting in St. Louis. Click here for the poster. Richard completed his thesis in July 2008 and the finished thesis is available here. Richard is currently teaching science at the middle school level at Woodland Junior High School.


The Role of Behavior is Student Learning

Jennifer McGee, now at Colorado, perfomed a detailed student of the effect of different student behavior on their test average and conceptual gain. A detailed measurement of the actions a student performs in an introductory physics class is presented.
The correlation between various student actions and hourly test average and Hake Gain is calculated.
The correlation analysis shows that reading has a disproportionate influence on conceptual gain.
A linear regression analysis shows that only 20% of the variation in student performance is explained by student behavior. This research was extended to more students covering both versions of UPII. The results were presented as a talk at the Summer 2006 AAPT meeting. Click here for the talk.

Uncertainty in Student Knowledge

Heather Griffen investigated the context sensitivity of the Force Concept Inventory. The Force Concept Inventory and a context-modified test were given to 654 students enrolled in introductory physics classes at the University of Arkansas. Context changes had a statistically significant effect on student responses in 6 of 10 questions. The numerical impact on overall student performance is not sufficient to affect normal use of the Force Concept Inventory as a diagnostic instrument. Examination of responses by the same student allows calculation of the fraction of the students that consistently apply correct conceptual knowledge, the fraction of students that consistently apply misconceptions, and fraction of students whose knowledge is uncertain. Part of this research was published in Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 3, 010102 (2007)

A Statistical Model of Student Knowledge for a Corrected Conceptual Gain

Ed Corcoran investigated the statistical distribution of pretest scores. A student’s state of knowledge entering a science class is variable. Some students have no prior knowledge of the material, where other students have substantial previous knowledge. The distribution of these states of knowledge is extracted by fitting test data with combinations of the binomial distribution. Since the pretest scores of both the Force Concepts Inventory and the Conceptual Survey of Electricity and Magnetism contain a substantial number of questions that appear to be answered simply by random guessing the multiple choice pretest overestimates the real state of student knowledge leading to a bias in the conceptual gain and the normalized conceptual gain towards low values. This bias can be removed from the conceptual gain by correcting the pretest score for the effect of guessing and constructing an effective present score. This effective pretest is an estimate of what the student would score on a non-multiple choice test. This work was refined and a poster was presented by John Stewart at the Summer 2007 AAPT meeting. Click here for the poster.

Using Language Frequency Measurements to Understand Learning in an Introductory Science Course

James Roller investigated the role of writing quality in student learning. A new kind of class assessment measuring quantitative properties of the communication that exists within introductory science classes is presented. Frequency measurements of specific language, math, and graph elements taken from student work in an introductory electricity and magnetism course are analyzed and used as a quantitative measure of the communication that exists within a science class. The correlation of these measurements with student conceptual gain and test average is calculated. Regression analyses are used to determine both the important communication variables affecting test average and conceptual gain and whether or not student presentation plays a statistically significant role in student learning. This work was extended this year by Shawn Ballard for her honors thesis, which is available here and presented as a poster at the April 2008 APS meeting in St. Louis. Click here for the poster.