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Students Responses to Innovation in Introductory Physics
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  1. Students Responses to Innovation in Introductory Physics Maria Ruibal Villasenor and Eugenia Etkina Rutgers University, New Jersey Supported by the NSF, grant REC-059065

  2. INTRODUCTION For the past five years the Rutgers PAER group has been modifying “Physics for the Sciences” – an algebra-based course for science majors at Rutgers University. The course follows the Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE)system that seeks to actively engage students in the construction of their own knowledge.  Anecdotal students’ reactions indicated that the transition from traditional courses to this innovative learning environment was difficult.

  3. PHYSICS FOR THE SCIENCES Instructors do not impart concepts or solutions for model problems, but they create the conditions and provide the guidance so that learnersconstruct their own knowledge. The Active Learning Guide (ALG) consists on sequences of activities designed to facilitate the construction of concepts and the attainment of scientific abilities. In labs, students must design their own experiments with the support of lab write-ups, rubrics and instructors. The lab write-ups are not sets of step by step directions, but they contain guiding questions and prompts. In recitations and labs, students work collaboratively in groups of ~ 4 members.

  4. RESEARCH QUESTIONS • How do students respond to new teaching methods? • Do they perceive differences between “traditional” science classes and constructivist approaches? • If they see the differences, do they appreciate the changes? • What factors affect their responses to new teaching? Answers to these questions will help facilitate the adoption of new teaching and learning practices.

  5. RESEARCH METHOD & STUDY • Grounded theory: A qualitative research method, which goal of explaining a set of observations within certain boundaries and making predictions within these boundaries. • Data collection: 9 individual interviews (each ~ 45-minutes long). • Data analysis: Appearing codes were compared and contrasted with one another to reduce the amount and to obtain a small number of refined categories.

  6. FINDINGS Most of the students participating on this study were positive about the course and its learning methods. They appreciated that “it makes you think and it makes you figure things out.” They also valued collaborative work and demonstrations. The majority of them protested about aspects that were not essential, such as the rush during the last minutes. They also companied that no textbook was followed in class. Most of the students realized that the course was dissimilar from traditional ones. But few found no noteworthy differences: “Every course is different.”

  7. FINDINGS: EMERGED CATEGORIES Attitude:Positive or negative students’ disposition toward the course.  Perceptions:Students’ awareness and interpretation of several relevant aspects of the course. Students’ perceptions affected their attitudes. Course Purposes:Students’ understanding the goals of the course and the purposes of learning tasks. Learning:Students’ thinking of how they learn. Difficulty:Students’ perception of the affordability of the course goals and effort required. Variableness:Changes in students’ perceptions and views of physics and the course.


  9. IMPLICATIONS • Instructors need to communicate clearly course goals and their rationale. • Student learning developmentis a priority. We need to address this objective explicitly and implicitly. It might be helpful for students to take a course in epistemology. • Some students mistrusted innovations because of malfunctions due to the novelty of the approach. Therefore when implementing innovations, a special effort must be madeto support instructors and train TA’s.