Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Autonomy and the Student Experience in Introductory Physics
by Hall, Nicholas Ron, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2013, 131; 3602079
Abstract (Summary)

The role of autonomy in the student experience in a large-enrollment undergraduate introductory physics course was studied from a Self-Determination Theory perspective with two studies. Study I, a correlational study, investigated whether certain aspects of the student experience correlated with how autonomy supportive (vs. controlling) students perceived their instructors to be. An autonomy supportive instructor acknowledges students' perspectives, feelings, and perceptions and provides students with information and opportunities for choice, while minimizing external pressures. It was found that the degree to which students perceived their instructors as autonomy supportive was positively correlated with student interest and enjoyment in learning physics (beta=0.31***) and negatively correlated with student anxiety about taking physics (beta=-0.23**). It was also positively correlated with how autonomous (vs. controlled) students' reasons for studying physics became over the duration of the course (i.e., studying physics more because they wanted to vs. had to; beta=0.24***). This change in autonomous reasons for studying physics was in turn positively correlated with student performance in the course (beta=0.17*). Additionally, the degree to which students perceived their instructors as autonomy supportive was directly correlated with performance for those students entering the course with relatively autonomous reasons for studying physics (beta=0.25**). In summary, students who perceived their instructors as more autonomy supportive tended to have a more favorable experience in the course. If greater autonomy support was in fact the cause of a more favorable student experience, as suggested by Self-determination Theory and experimental studies in other contexts, these results would have implications for instruction and instructor professional development in similar contexts. I discuss these implications. Study II, an experimental study, investigated the effect, on the student experience, of the number of opportunities for choice built into the course format. This was done by comparing two sets of classes. In one set of classes, students spent each class period working through a required series of activities. In the other set of classes, with additional choice, students were free to choose what to work on during nearly half of each class. It was found that the effect of additional choice on student interest and enjoyment in learning physics was significantly different for men vs. women, with a Cohen's d of 0.62 (0.16-1.08; 95% CI). Men became somewhat more interested with additional choice and women became less interested. This gender difference in interest and enjoyment as a result of additional choice could not be accounted for by differences in performance. It was also found that only in classes with additional choice did performance in the course correlate with the degree to which students reasons for studying physics became more autonomous during the quarter (beta=0.30*). I discuss the implications that these effects of additional choice have for instruction and course design in similar contexts.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Webb, David
Commitee: Bradac, Marusa, Knox, Lloyd
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Physics
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-B 75/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Physics, Science education, Higher education
Keywords: Affect, Autonomy, Choice, Motivation, Performance, Physics
Publication Number: 3602079
ISBN: 9781303538728
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