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The Search for Strategies to Prevent Persistent Misconceptions

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

NSF Grantees' Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1231.1 - 23.1231.8

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Paper Authors


Dazhi Yang Boise State Univeristy

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Dr. Dazhi Yang is an assistant professor in the Educational Technology Department at Boise State University. Prior to coming to BSU, she was a postdoctoral researcher and instructional designer in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Her main research interests are (1) instructional strategies and instructional design for teaching difficult concepts and subject areas in STEM education, specially science and engineering, and (2) learning theories and models, and their roles in the 21st century of digital learning, and technology integration. Yang’s latest research focuses on employing an innovative synergistic approach to prevent/eliminate misconceptions from forming with first-year engineering students, and teaching STEM disciplines in online environments.

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Inanc Senocak Boise State University

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Dr. Inanc Senocak is an associate professor with the Department of Mechanical and
Biomedical Engineering at Boise State University. He obtained his Ph.D. degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Florida in 2002. Dr. Senocak served as a postdoctoral research associate at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Stanford University prior to joining Boise State in 2007. Dr. Senocak conducts research in such areas as computational fluid dynamics, wind forecasting, atmospheric dispersion, and parallel computing.

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The Search for Strategies to Prevent Persistent MisconceptionsResearch shows that it may be too late to correct and repair misconceptions of fundamental scienceand engineering concepts by the time students reach core engineering courses. Therefore, we need tofocus on preventing such misconceptions. Although some misconceptions were formed long beforecollege, by focusing on eliminating and teaching to prevent misconceptions earlier in the collegeexperience we have more and better opportunities to eliminate them.This paper reports the Stage One outcomes of a larger study: A synergistic approach to prevent persistentmisconceptions with first-year engineering students. The paper addresses the following two aspects: (1)misconception repair strategies have had weak results, and (2) proposing a synergistic approach thatfocuses on preventing/eliminating misconceptions from forming.From the review of previous studies on student misconceptions of science and engineering concepts andconceptual change, we found most strategies for treating student misconceptions focus on repairing andchanging misconceptions when they are already formed or identified. Among these remedy strategies,four strategies are most frequently adopted and tested: (1) using conceptual conflict to confront andcontradict misconceptions, (2) using computer simulations to promote conceptual changes, (3) inquiry-based activities (such as problem-based learning) to promote conceptual changes, and (4) presenting fourconditions of the Conceptual Change Model to promote conceptual changes. Another newly emergedstrategy called schema training approach that trains students on two different scientific processes(emergent and sequential processes) to facilitate them in forming new mental representations of the twoprocesses. This approach assumes that possessing mental representations of emergent and sequentialprocesses will facilitate subsequent learning of difficult concepts and promote conceptual changes. Theschema training approach seems to be promising for repairing misconceptions in different subjects andacross student levels (K-12 and college). However, it works better with middle school students thancollege students.While our review of existing research on repairing misconceptions and promoting conceptual changesfound some strategies effective, to date there is no single strategy that could successfully repair allmisconceptions. If efforts on repairing misconceptions did not achieve intended goals, new approaches toprevent them seem to be logical and the most economic way to pursue. If we can prevent students fromforming misconceptions of core concepts in the first place, we can not only help students better learnsciences and engineering, improve their chances of pursuing degrees and careers in science andengineering, but also save resources devoted to repairing misconceptions later on.Based on outcomes of previous studies, we propose a synergistic approach that utilizes effectiveinstructional design and the development of student mental representations of fundamental yet difficultconcepts with first-year engineering students before they take relevant coursework. This approachconsists of (1) utilizing interactive learning strategies enhanced by educational technology, (2) trainingstudents on mental representations of scientific processes (SPs) (domain-general training), and mostimportantly (3) explaining difficult concepts in the language of SPs (domain-specific) in addition to thedomain-general training on SPs. This strategy will provide a concrete context for students makinglearning new difficult concepts easier as well as shortening the time for forming correct conceptualunderstanding, harnessing the synergistic effect of both domain-general and domain-specific training. Thelast strategy was inspired by a recent study in which the students performed statistically different (better)on the assessment test when diffusion concepts were simply referred to as emergent process.We believe that explaining difficult concepts in the language of SPs in addition to the domain-generaltraining of SPs will be the most effective instructional method to provide a strong, appropriate foundationof conceptual understanding to prevent first-year engineering students from forming stubbornmisconceptions. Stage Two of the large study will examine this synergistic approach using anexperimental design study and a follow-up study with first-year engineering students.

Yang, D., & Senocak, I. (2013, June), The Search for Strategies to Prevent Persistent Misconceptions Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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