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Assessment of Student Understanding in Physics: An Integrated Qualitative and Quantitative Approach

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Innovations in Teaching Physics or Engineering Physics II

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.260.1 - 22.260.13



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Paper Authors


Teresa L. Larkin American University

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Teresa L. Larkin is an Associate Professor of Physics Education and Faculty Liaison to the Pre-engineering Program at American University. She received her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction with emphasis in Physics and Science Education from Kansas State University. Dr. Larkin is involved with Physics Education Research (PER) and has published widely on topics related to the assessment of student learning in introductory physics and engineering courses. She has been an active member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) for well over 20 years. Dr. Larkin served on the Board of Directors for ASEE from 1997 - 1999 as Chair of Professional Interest Council (PIC) III and as Vice President of PICs. Dr. Larkin has received numerous national and international awards including the ASEE Distinguished Educator and Service Award from the Physics and Engineering Physics Division in 1998. Dr. Larkin received the Outstanding Teaching in the General Education Award from AU in 2000. In 2000 – 2001, she served as a National Science Foundation ASEE Visiting Scholar.

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Assessment of student learning is of critical importance in terms of revealing effective pedagogicallearning tools and strategies. This paper reports on a study of student learning of basic mechanicsconcepts in an introductory physics course. Both qualitative and quantitative assessment strategieswere employed. Free-writing activities were used to qualitatively assess student understandingthroughout the learning process. Writing has long been shown to serve as an effective tool to improvethe quality of student engagement and learning. In this paper, the free-writing approach will bedescribed and one exercise from the spring 2010 semester will be presented as it relates to basicconcepts in mechanics. A sampling of student responses to this exercise will be shared. Toquantitatively address the question of whether deeper understanding was achieved, results from theForce Concept Inventory (FCI) will be presented. The FCI is a widely used multiple-choice, survey-typeinstrument used to assess student understanding of basic mechanics concepts in physics. Data analysiswill include a presentation of pre- and post-test gains from the same population of students. This dataanalysis will include a presentation of learning gains for the class a whole as well as a comparison ofgains between the males and females within the overall student population. Preliminary results suggestthat while females have, on average, higher overall grades in the course as well as higher overall GPAs,their gains as measured by the FCI are lower than those achieved by male students. A discussion of thesignificance of these results will be presented and possible issues related to this apparent genderdiscrepancy will be proposed.

Larkin, T. L. (2011, June), Assessment of Student Understanding in Physics: An Integrated Qualitative and Quantitative Approach Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17541

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