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Characterizing lab instructors’ self-reported learning goals to inform development of an experimental modeling skills assessment

TitleCharacterizing lab instructors’ self-reported learning goals to inform development of an experimental modeling skills assessment
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsDounas-Frazer, DR, Ríos, L, Pollard, B, Stanley, JT, Lewandowski, HJ
JournalPhysical Review Physics Education Research
Date Published2018-11

The ability to develop, use, and refine models of experimental systems is a nationally recognized learning outcome for undergraduate physics lab courses. However, no assessments of students’ model-based reasoning exist for upper-division labs. This study is the first step toward development of modeling assessments for optics and electronics labs. We interviewed 35 lab instructors about the ways they incorporate modeling in their courses, and we used their self-reported learning goals and activity designs to identify test contexts and objectives that are likely relevant across many institutional settings. The study design was informed by the Modeling Framework for Experimental Physics, which conceptualizes modeling as consisting of multiple subtasks: making measurements, constructing system models, comparing data to predictions, proposing causes for discrepancies, and enacting revisions to models or apparatus. We found that each modeling subtask was identified by multiple instructors as an important learning outcome for their course. Based on these results, we argue that test objectives should include probing students’ competence with most modeling subtasks, and test items should be designed to elicit students’ justifications for choosing particular modeling pathways. In addition to discussing these and other implications for assessment, we also identify future areas of research related to the role of modeling in optics and electronics labs.


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