Asee peer logo

Learning Physics in the Millennial Age

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Engineering Physics & Physics Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Teresa L. Larkin American University

visit author page

Teresa L. Larkin is an Associate Professor of Physics Education and Director and Faculty Liaison to the Dual-degree 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. Noteworthy is her work with student writing as a learning and assessment tool in her introductory physics courses for non-majors. She has been an active member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) for about 30 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. She has received numerous national and international awards including the ASEE Fellow Award in 2016 and the 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 January 2014 the Center for Teaching, Research and Learning at AU presented Dr. Larkin with the Milton and Sonia Greenberg Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award 2013. In 2013 her paper entitled “Breaking with Tradition: Using the Conference Paper as a Case for Alternative Assessment in Physics” received an award for best paper in a special session entitled Talking about Teaching (TaT’13), at the 42nd International Conference on Engineering Pedagogy (IGIP) held in Kazan, Russia. In 2000 – 2001 she served as a National Science Foundation ASEE Visiting Scholar. Dr. Larkin is the author of a book chapter published in 2010 entitled “Women’s Leadership in Engineering” in K. O’Connor (Ed.) Gender and Women’s Leadership: A Reference Handbook (Vol. 2, pp. 689 – 699). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Dr. Larkin can be reached at

visit author page


Ben Hein

visit author page

Ben Hein graduated from James Madison University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. After working for several years as a software developer and architect, he left his field in 2014 to pursue a Master's Degree in Christian Divinity and Theology (M.Div.). Outside of his work for the Church, Ben is passionate about bringing people together across various age, race and socio-economic boundaries. Special areas of interest to him include inter-generational research, philosophy and sociology. He lives with his wife Neva in Centreville, Virginia. He can be reached by email,

visit author page

Download Paper |


Physics is a subject area that, like many others, requires a specific and rather well-defined skillset. This skillset includes the ability to solve problems which involve, at minimum, an understanding of basic algebra. The level of mathematics required often depends upon the population of students a particular physics class is geared for. Our non-majors studying physics typically need to have a working knowledge of basic algebra, while our physics and STEM majors need to have some basic calculus under their belts. To promote deeper learning in physics, educators and researchers have developed a multitude of active-learning strategies that have one primary goal; namely, to enhance student learning. Many research studies in physics education have looked at factors that affect learning in physics. Oftentimes these studies have focused on specific subsets of populations of students in classes such as introductory courses for non-majors or for specific non-STEM populations such as music or elementary education majors. Additional studies have focused on student learning in courses designed for physics and other STEM-related disciplines. Several studies, for example, have focused on the conceptual and reasoning difficulties novice students often encounter in an introductory physics course. Physics educators know that students don’t enter the classroom with a tabula rasa – rather they bring with them a minimum of about 18 years of life experiences that directly and indirectly impede or enhance their ability to learn physics. Within the introductory physics course, one might argue that there are more similarities than differences in terms of factors that impede or enhance student learning across various subsets of student populations. For example, studies have shown that an alarmingly large number of students across the entire introductory spectrum of courses have similar difficulties in terms of the preconceptions and misconceptions they bring with them into the classroom. In the roughly 50 years that formal research in physics education has been conducted, we have uncovered, time and time again, that our students come into our classes with issues that have a direct or indirect bearing on their ability to learn physics. One question this paper aims to address is: Are the factors that impede or enhance student learning in physics any different in the millennial age? The millennial (or Generation Y) is often considered to be an individual born sometime between the early 1980s and 2000s. During this same time period and beyond we have seen an explosion in the availability of internet- and technology-based learning tools. Are these types of tools impeding or enhancing student learning … or perhaps both? To address the question posed, a synthesis of a survey given to introductory students in two different university-level physics classes in the fall 2016 semester will be presented. One aim of the survey will be to attempt to tease out factors that are affecting learning in physics of our millennial-age students. An additional aim will be to look at the general perceptions millennials have towards learning in general; and, more specifically towards learning physics.

Larkin, T. L., & Hein, B. (2017, June), Learning Physics in the Millennial Age Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28614

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015