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This dissertation describes an investigation of how the computer may be utilized to perform research on instruction and on student understanding in physics. The research was conducted within three content areas: kinematics, waves and dynamics. The main focus of the research on instruction was the determination of factors needed for a computer program to be instructionally effective. The emphasis in the research on student understanding was the identification of specific conceptual and reasoning difficulties students encounter with the subject matter. Most of the research was conducted using the computer-based interview, a technique developed during the early part of the work, conducted within the domain of kinematics. In a computer-based interview, a student makes a prediction about how a particular system will behave under given circumstances, observes a simulation of the event on a computer screen, and then is asked by an interviewer to explain any discrepancy between prediction and observation. In the course of the research, a model was developed for producing educational software. The model has three important components: (i) research on student difficulties in the content area to be addressed, (ii) observations of students using the computer program, and (iii) consequent program modification. This model was used to guide the development of an instructional computer program dealing with graphical representations of transverse pulses. Another facet of the research involved the design of a computer program explicitly for the purposes of research. A computer program was written that simulates a modified Atwood's machine. The program was than used in computer-based interviews and proved to be an effective means of probing student understanding of dynamics concepts. In order to ascertain whether or not the student difficulties identified were peculiar to the computer
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