Reed MST: SET students' experiences

Dan Reed
Evaluating Factors Contributing to Engineering Technology Students’ Introductory Physics Experience
Unpublished MST thesis, University of Maine, August, 2007.

The UMaine’s introductory algebra-based physics course PHY 107 is dedicated to students from the School of Engineering Technology (SET). These SET students come from a wide range of backgrounds and are studying a hybrid of curricula for an engineer and a technician with a leaning toward engineering. In order to appropriately serve this population we must attempt to understand who these students are.

One of the legends surrounding this group is that their struggles with physics stem from having a lower level of mathematics ability than the typical introductory physics student. Through the use of a math diagnostic, the Force and Motion Conceptual Evaluation (FMCE), an updated version of the Maryland Physics Expectations (MPEX2) survey, and a myriad of student, instructor, and SET Coordinator interviews, I sought to develop a data supported view of the PHY 107 students. In this process, I address current course objectives; the extent students develop toward those objectives; and find which factors correlate with physics conceptual development.

I found that despite SET’s professional concerns, they care most about developing their students’ abilities to make sense of physical and verbal representations of a situation and translate that understanding into meaningful mathematical models. The measure of conceptual development tells the extent to which PHY 107 has developed these skills necessary to build a mathematical model. PHY 107 students only improved !12% of their potential for conceptual development as measured by the FMCE.

Mathematic skill failed to contribute to the PHY 107 students’ conceptual gain , though they do represent the bottom quartile of a typical algebra-based introductory physics course. Of all factors considered in this study, pre- and post-instruction favorable attitudes as measured by MPEX2 coherence and concept cluster scores best-predicted student conceptual development.