Physics Education Research (PER) is research into the learning, understanding and teaching of physics and the application of physics knowledge. Our group has a broad range of research interests that include the role of mathematics and reflection in physics learning, the organization and deployment of physics knowledge by experts and novices, differences in perception of physical diagrams and motion between experts and novices, transfer studies, the design and implementation of web-based instruction, curriculum reform, and the evaluation of educational assessments. Experimental techniques and analyses we use in our research include eye-tracking, video analysis, student interviews, web-based log data analysis, and exam question analysis. As a piece of our department's curriculum reform of the introductory sequence, we are in on-going development of web-based instructional materials that include Interactive Examples, Interactive Online Lectures, and Tycho. Our group includes members from both the Physics Department and the School of Education.
Multimedia Prelectures for Physics
Previous research has demonstrated that physics experts categorize physics problems by the principles used to solve them; whereas, many physics novices tend to categorize physics problems by surface-feature similarity. This current study sought to find differences between physics experts and novices on a memory test of physics pictures.
We designed pairs of physics pictures which were simple line drawings that depicted some physical situation (examples shown in the figure). For a given pair, the second picture was altered from the original in one of two ways: changes that did not alter the physics depicted, or changes that made a meaningful change to the physics depicted. Subjects were shown one picture from each pair during a study portion, and then later, were shown either the same picture or its slightly changed pair.
Results show that physics novices perform equally well on both types of image pairs, but physics experts perform significantly better on image pairs that contain a meaningful change in the physics depicted than they do on image pairs that do not contain a meaningful change to the physics depicted.
These findings suggest that conceptual physics knowledge plays a role in the way physics experts form representations of physics pictures. Moreover, for some image pairs, novices were much more able to detect the change in the picture than were experts. This suggests that the memory representations that experts create may lack the surface-feature details that novicesí memory representations contain.