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Effects of Language on CATS Performance

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Enhancing the Underrepresented Student Experience

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.462.1 - 24.462.12



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Paper Authors


Catherine Michelle Mazak University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez

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Catherine M. Mazak is an English professor at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayaguez, where she studies bilingualism and learning. She is co-director of CeIBA (Centro para la investigacion del bilinguismo y aprendizaje/Center for Research on Bilingualism and Learning).

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Cristopher B. Font-Santiago

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Aidsa I. Santiago-Román University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez

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Effects of Language on CATS PerformanceThe University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez (UPRM) is an officially bilingual university whereengineering classes may be taught in Spanish, English, or a combination of both languages.Spanish is the home language of 91% of undergraduates at UPRM. Because of low performanceon the Concept Assessment Tool for Statics (CATS) (around 29% compared to the results ofother institutions, which ranged from 30-70%), a Spanish version of CATS (CATS-S) wasdeveloped. This study seeks to understand the role of language in the misconceptions of native-Spanish-speaking students about statics concepts by comparing performance on CATS and CAT-S. A research protocol was designed to answer the following questions: 1. What misconceptions do senior engineering students at UPRM hold about statics concepts? 2. Are these the same misconceptions (common errors) as those currently identified by the developer of CATS? 3. Which of these misconceptions is related to language?To answer these questions, ten Hispanic senior civil engineering students were recruited anddivided into two groups, control and experimental. The control group was assigned the originalCATS version, while the experimental group received the CATS-S. For both instrumentsquestions were given in open-ended format. Afterwards, each student worked independentlywith the assigned instrument and then was interviewed by a research assistant in Spanish toexplain their thought process. These interviews were recorded and transcribed.The interview transcripts were analyzed qualitatively to identify the participants’ understanding(or misunderstanding) of each statics concept. Two research assistants independently analyzedeach participant’s exam and interview transcript and then filled in a chart indicating the questionnumber, participant number, whether the question was answered correctly or incorrectly,cognitive attributes, the description of the cognitive attributes, the error, and the description ofthe error.The qualitative analysis revealed that the students tested indeed had similar misconceptions as tothose identified by the developer of CATS. Surprisingly, students taking CATS-S did worsethan students taking CATS, even though Spanish was their primary language. Therefore, wefurther sought to know which of these misconceptions was related to language. In order toaccomplish this, the questions in which misconceptions were identified were further analyzedlinguistically. Linguistic analysis was completed on the question itself, the students’ answers,and the students’ interview talk about the answer. Analysis revealed that language indeed had aneffect on student misconceptions. It is hypothesized that this is because students who did poorlyon CATS-S studied statics through English-medium and were being tested in Spanish-medium.

Mazak, C. M., & Font-Santiago, C. B., & Santiago-Román, A. I. (2014, June), Effects of Language on CATS Performance Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20353

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