The influence of multiple representations and attitudes to learning on the first year non-physics majors' conceptual understanding
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The study described in this thesis was conducted in a university in Australia with non-Physics majors studying Introductory Physics over three semesters. The main theme in this thesis was to study the relationship between students’ use of multiple representations, their attitudes towards learning Physics and their conceptual understanding. The assessment in the Physics unit was designed to encourage students to represent their knowledge with as many representations as they could. Two multiple representational questionnaires on the topics of thermal physics and optics were developed to assess students’ conceptual understanding and for their learning. In addition, three attitude-related surveys - Physics Motivation Survey, Expectation Survey and Experience Survey - were administered to measure students’ attitude towards learning Physics.Phase One of the study focused on observing the lecturer and tutors’ representations in class and accordingly, developing the multiple representations questionnaire prior to its first trial. In Phase Two, the revised multiple representations questionnaires were administered as the second trial, and a marking key was developed for the questionnaires. In addition, three attitude-related surveys were administered in the first trial to clarify students’ attitudes to learning, because some inattentive learning behaviours were observed in Phase One.Phase Three was the most productive phase because this phase built on what was learned from Phases One and Two. Based on the results of Phase Two, the multiple representational questionnaires testing thermal physics and optics were revised and administered in a third trial, and the three attitude related surveys were given the second trial. In addition, in Phase Three, the time spent on different representations used by the lecturer was recorded. These data were used to obtain further understanding of the relationship between multiple representations, students’ attitudes to learning Physics and students’ conceptual understanding. Also approximately 50 % of the student cohort (n = 70) was interviewed.In Phase Three, the results of post-tests of the multiple representational questionnaires showed that students’ marks varied considerably on the zero to three scale; however, the average mark of all representations, number of different mode representations presented in each question improved significantly based on both on t-tests and effect size compared to their pre-tests. It was speculated that the improvement was due to the effect of the lectures and tutorials that were designed to make students explicitly more aware of the different ways they can represent their knowledge. Besides, it was found that the time of teaching in one representation had no significant correlation with students’ improvement of mark in that representation.During the interviews, students were able to provide more elaborate and richer explanations than on their written responses alone because they were able to clarify their written responses. Students had more opportunities to confront cognitive conflicts when the interviewer reminded students about the mistakes they made in the questionnaire or in their oral explanation. The research showed that students’ prior knowledge (e.g., representational, referent and conceptual knowledge) was important to make the best use of multiple representations.The three attitude-related surveys had high Cronbach alpha reliabilities and were generally effective in measuring students’ attitudes and unit learning experiences. Based on students’ responses to the three surveys, their attitudes towards learning Physics was positive in spite of some assessment anxiety, and they reported positive experiences during the semester. Students’ expectations of the unit they attended had medium correlation(r=0.37 in thermal module, r=0.38 in optics module) with their conceptual understanding. However, the careless attitudes observed by some students may have limited their learning with multiple representations. We recommend further study examining the causes of students’ learning attitude and learning behaviour, and how these causes interact with each other to influence students’ conceptual understanding while learning physics with multiple representations.
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