Thesis Defense – Casey Murphy, November 22


MST Student

Thesis Advisor: Michael Wittmann

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Science in Teaching
December, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010
3:10 – 5:00 pm
227 Neville Hall


Student understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge and their sense of self-efficacy in the construction of scientific ideas impacts their approach to learning in a physics laboratory (Hammer, 1995). This research uses video analysis to explore two polar examples of group epistemological approach within the same lab.  One group seemed to approach the activities with the goal of answer-seeking, often at the expense of meaningful learning, while the other group seemed to actively engage in idea-construction as they worked through the instructional sequence.  Using methods of Interaction Analysis, we observe very different behavioral patterns for each group across three spheres of interaction – student interactions with group members, student interactions with space and time, and student interaction with authority.  These results suggest that it is possible to assess student approach to a lab by being attentive to what students say and do as they interact with group members, with the space around them and with authority.  The emergent patterns could provide the basis of a teacher toolbox for gauging, in situ, whether or not student approach is matched to the intended epistemological goals of the course.

In addition to looking at the details of behavior in the classroom, we explore shifts in epistemological approach to physics learning from the beginning of the course to the end of the course with the MPEX-II.  Consistent with previous semesters, whole course results indicate no shift towards favorability in personal or epistemological independence between pre-, mid- and post- tests.  We also analyze student survey responses at the beginning of the semester for the entire class, and, more importantly, for the Answer-Seeking Group and the Idea-Constructing Group.  We observe a mismatch between behavior observed in class and student response on the MPEX-II questions measuring the extent students see knowledge as constructed or absorbed (independence-epistemology).  On the other hand, we observed a match between group behaviors and the questions probing self-efficacy in knowledge construction.  These results challenge earlier studies indicating low validity for MPEX-II use as an individual or small N diagnostic (McCaskey, 2009) and also confirm analysis of the MPEX-II Independence cluster at the sub-category level of independence–personal  and independence-epistemology.