Researching the Role of Qualitative Analysis
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Leonard, William J.
US National Science Foundation grant ROLE-0106771
Starting date: 

RRA was a research project on the combined impact of qualitative analysis and reasoning activities and formative assessment on the attitudes, conceptual understanding, skills, and problem-solving proficiency of introductory college physics students.

Too often, students in introductory college physics develop superficial problem-solving approaches - often manipulating equations and avoiding concepts. Meanwhile, their instructors generally have lofty goals for them, such as developing deep conceptual understanding and forward-looking strategic approaches to problem solving, yet somehow the day-to-day activities seem to discourage these outcomes from ever happening.

Analysis activities, in which students use concepts to reason and answer questions about problem situations, are being used as a bridge between the current reality of physics instruction and the desired state of helping students develop transferable thinking skills. The approach, called Analysis-Based Problem Solving, has been used by UMPERG members for many years, but only recently have we been funded to study the approach and its effect on student attitudes and skills.

The data consists of surveys (weekly attitudes, biweekly pretests, and end-of-semester posttests), performance (exams and quizzes using the EDC format; eHW), and hit logs (eHW and homeworkCentral). The goal is to classify students in terms of their prior knowledge and skills, as well as level and style of engagement, and then look for correlations of these variables with student attitudes and an array of performance indicators, such as conceptual understanding, analysis and reasoning ability, and problem-solving proficiency. The Every Decision Counts (EDC) format for multiple-choice assessments and the homeworkCentral (hwC) web site are critical elements of the project. EDC is a format invented to given us more precise performance data, and hwC is a web site created to allow us to monitor student engagement while working on electronic homework.