Education research: preliminary MPEX comparison (Cuesta College, Fall Semester 2007)

The Maryland Physics Expectations survey (MPEX) was administered to Cuesta College Physics 5A (college physics, algebra-based, mandatory adjunct laboratory) students at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, CA. The MPEX was given during the first week of the semester, and then on the last week of the semester, to quantify student attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions about physics using six question categories, rating responses as either favorable or unfavorable towards:
  1. Independence--beliefs about learning physics--whether it means receiving information or involves an active process of reconstructing one's own understanding;
  2. Coherence--beliefs about the structure of physics knowledge--as a collection of isolated pieces or as a single coherent system;
  3. Concepts--beliefs about the content of physics knowledge--as formulas or as concepts that underlie the formulas;
  4. Reality Link--beliefs about the connection between physics and reality--whether physics is unrelated to experiences outside the classroom or whether it is useful to think about them together;
  5. Math Link--beliefs about the role of mathematics in learning physics--whether the mathematical;
    formalism is used as a way of representing information about physical phenomena or mathematics is just used to calculate numbers;
  6. Effort--beliefs about the kind of activities and work necessary to make sense out of physics--whether they expect to think carefully and evaluate what they are doing based on available materials and feedback or not.
Cuesta College
Physics 5A Fall Semester 2007 sections 0906, 0907
(N = 33)
Percentage of favorable:unfavorable responses
Overall Indep. Coher. Concept Real. Math Effort
Initial 55:20 46:15 45:28 50:30 77:05 48:36 67:11
Final 46:31 39:25 44:39 40:37 66:13 40:29 52:26
In comparison the MPEX was given to Physics 8A (university physics, calculus-based, mandatory adjunct laboratory) students at Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, CA, during Spring semester 2007. Of note is that Physics 5A students used numerical keypad clickers (Classroom Performance System, einstruction.com) to enter homework and to engage in peer-interactive discussion questions during lecture, whereas Physics 8A students had only traditional lecture.
Cuesta College
Physics 8A Spring Semester 2007 sections 4909, 4910, 4911
(N = 26)
Percentage of favorable:unfavorable responses
Overall Indep. Coher. Concept Real. Math Effort
Initial 54:25 44:25 39:34 52:26 67:10 53:21 65:12
Final 44:31 33:26 45:28 36:37 57:13 41:29 45:35
The results between these two Cuesta College physics classes have notable differences in three categories:
  • Physics 8A students had lower favorable initial attitudes towards coherence (i.e., "believes physics needs to be considered as a connected consistent framework," as opposed to "believes physics can be treated as unrelated facts or 'pieces'"), but these increased to levels comparable to the Physics 5A students, whose coherence attitudes remained static.
  • Physics 5A students have both higher initial and final attitudes towards reality link ("believes ideas learned in physics are relevant and useful in a wide variety of contexts," as opposed to "believes ideas learned in physics has little relation to experiences outside the classroom") than Physics 8A students, but experienced a similar negative initial-to-final shift in these attitudes.
  • The third difference was the less favorable final attitudes of Physics 8A students towards effort (i.e., "makes the effort to use information available and tries to make sense of it" versus "does not attempt to use available information effectively") than Physics 5A students.
These results, while intriguing, do not by themselves validate or invalidate the use of clickers in introductory physics, as there is no direct traditional lecture versus clicker instruction Physics 5A comparison; these results may merely be due to the differences in student populations in Physics 5A (typically pre-medical or architectural technology majors) versus Physics 8A (engineering majors). Further studies at Cuesta College in future semesters should compare Physics 5A students with and without clicker instruction, as well as Physics 8A students with and without clicker instruction.

However, it is interesting to note the lower initial final attitudes of Physics 8A students compared to Physics 5A students towards coherence and reality link, compared to Physics 5A students--these lower attitudes for Physics 8A students would be opposite of what would be expected of engineering majors, compared to the pre-medical and architectural technology students in Physics 5A, before any instruction (traditional lecture or clicker peer-instruction) has taken place.

Previous post:
Education research: student expectations in physics
(Background on the MPEX by E. F. Redish, J. M. Saul, and R. N. Steinberg.)

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