Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Education

First Advisor

Erin Furtak

Second Advisor

Derek Briggs

Third Advisor

Noah Finkelstein

Abstract

Over the last several decades, the efficacy of the traditional lecture-based instructional model for undergraduate physics courses has been challenged. As a result, a large number of reform-oriented instructional innovations have been developed, enacted, and studied in undergraduate physics courses around the globe - all with the intended purpose of improving student learning. This thesis satisfies the need for a comprehensive synthesis of the effectiveness of these course innovations by analyzing: (1) the types of innovations that have been enacted, (2) the impact of these innovations on student learning, and (3) the common features of effective innovations. An exhaustive literature search for studies published after 1990 on undergraduate physics course innovations yielded 432 articles which were then coded with respect to the characteristics of the innovations used as well as the methodological characteristics of the studies. These codes facilitated a descriptive analysis which characterized the features of the pool of studies. These studies were then meta-analyzed in order to evaluate the effect of innovations on student learning. Finally, a case-study analysis was conducted in order to identify the critical characteristics of effective innovations. Results indicate that most innovations focus on introductory mechanics and use some combination of conceptually oriented tasks, collaborative learning, and technology. The overall effect of course innovations has been positive, but with the caveat that a large number of studies suffer from poor methodological designs and potential threats to validity. In addition, over half of the studies had to be eliminated from the meta-analysis because they did not report the data necessary for an effect size to be calculated. Despite these limitations the results of the meta-analysis indicated that there was one innovation which had particularly high effect sizes - Workshop/Studio Physics - an innovation which involves an integrated classroom environment in which there is minimal or no lectures and class time focuses on collaborative student activities involving the use of technology.

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