|This thesis studies the teaching and learning of first year university physics. The students involved in this study were first year physical science or engineering students at a private university in Taiwan. These students appeared to possess a low motivation towards learning university physics and had a poor academic performance. The failure rate was of concern to both the students and their lecturers. The existing teaching design, which included the physics content, the didactic teaching approach, and the assessment emphasising recall of facts, were seen to have contributed to the situation.
These problems are also found in the literature mostly in western countries. The literature which is specifically related to university physics education, provides information about the prevalent problems of traditional teaching in university physics courses, as well as trends for modifying the existing course. These modifications are mainly in the aspects of teaching content and teaching approach design. This literature provides practical suggestions for innovations to university physics courses.
The literature on constructivist and sociocultural views of learning in science education indicates that learning physics involves both cognitive engagement and engagement in learning as a social practice. The role of a physics lecturer is seen to shift from simply an information provider and concept interpreter, to a learning mediator, which includes facilitating students’ engagement in the learning process, monitoring students’ learning outcomes, and intervening in students’ alternative conceptions. Accordingly, students need to play an active role in their learning, ie, to actively participate in learning, and to reflect and be aware of their learning outcomes. Therefore, the literature suggests that the focus of physics classes needs to shift from teaching alone to both teaching and learning. The goals of learning physics include developing students’ physics knowledge as well as promoting learning motivation and broadening the students’ perspectives of why and how to learn physics. This literature provides a theoretical framework for this thesis regarding the learning process, teaching tasks, and the goals of the university physics course.
This study includes three phases:
(1) understanding the existing situation, including both the students’ and the lecturers’ perceptions with respect to the course design, the teaching performance, and the learning outcomes. The students’ opinions were investigated by a questionnaire survey, and the lecturers’ views were investigated by interviews and a questionnaire survey. Two standarised tests were also applied in order to examine the students’ physics background in comparison with their peers in the United States.
(2) designing and implementing an intervention teaching program. The design of the intervention program was based on the literature on constructivist and sociocultural views of learning and the existing situation as identified by this research. The major theme of the program was to activate the students’ participation in the classroom learning process. A three-week intervention teaching program was then implemented in one class by the researcher.
(3) evaluating the outcomes of the intervention program, which included student interviews, a questionnaire survey, and standarised tests. The outcomes of the intervention teaching were compared with those of traditional teaching.
This study concludes that the learning outcomes of the traditional teaching appeared to be far from satisfactory both in cognitive and affective aspects. The students obtained low gains in standardised tests before and after teaching. Meanwhile, the students’ learning motivations and adopted learning strategies appeared to drastically deteriorate during the learning process. The evaluation of the intervention teaching showed that the new teaching design significantly improved the students’ learning motivation, promoted the students’ engagement in thinking and discussion, and enhanced learning commitments out of class. Meanwhile, the students’ perceptions and awareness of their learning were enhanced by the intervention teaching. However, the intervention students were found to have similar achievement in physics knowledge as their peers in the traditional classes.