Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Issues Framework: Situating Graduate Teaching Assistant-Student Interactions in Physics Problem Solving
by Westlander, Meghan Joanne, Ph.D., North Carolina State University, 2014, 611; 3690214
Abstract (Summary)

Interactive engagement environments are critical to students' conceptual learning gains, and often the instructor is ultimately responsible for the creation of that environment in the classroom. When those instructors are graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), one of the primary ways in which they can promote interactive engagement is through their interactions with students.

Much of the prior research on physics GTA-student interactions focuses on GTA training programs (e.g. Ezrailson (2004); Smith, Ward, and Rosenshein (1977)) or on GTAs' specific actions and beliefs (e.g. West, Paul, Webb, and Potter (2013); Goertzen (2010); Spike and Finkelstein (2012a)). Research on students' ideas and behaviors within and surrounding those interactions is limited but important to obtaining a more complete understanding of how GTAs promote an interactive environment.

In order to begin understanding this area, I developed the Issues Framework to examine how GTA-student interactions are situated in students' processes during physics problem solving activities. Using grounded theory, the Issues Framework emerged from an analysis of the relationships between GTA-student interactions and the students procedures and expressions of physics content in and surrounding those interactions.

This study is focused on introducing the Issues Framework and the insight it can provide into GTA-student interactions and students' processes. The framework is general in nature and has a visually friendly design making it a useful tool for consolidating complex data and quickly pattern-matching important pieces of a complex process.

Four different categories of Issues emerged spanning the problem solving process: (1) Getting Started, (2) Solution Approach, (3) Unit Conversions, and (4) Other. The framework allowed for identification of the specific contents of the Issues in each category as well as revealing the common stories of students' processes and how the interactions were situated in those processes in each category.

Through the stories, the Issues Framework revealed processes in which students often focused narrowly on procedures with the physics content expressed through their procedures and only sometimes through conceptual discussions. Interactions with the GTA affected changes in students' processes, typically leading students to correct their procedures. The interactions often focused narrowly on procedures as well but introduced conceptual discussions more often than students did surrounding the interactions. Comparing stories across GTAs instead of across categories revealed one GTA who, more often than other GTAs, used conceptual discussion and encouraged students' participation in the interactions.

The Issues Framework still needs continued refinement and testing. However, it represents a significant step toward understanding GTA-student interactions from the perspective of students' processes in physics problem solving.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Beichner, Robert
Commitee:
School: North Carolina State University
Department: Physics
School Location: United States -- North Carolina
Source: DAI-A 76/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Teacher education, Science education, Higher education
Keywords: Framework, Interactions, Problem solving, Teaching assistant
Publication Number: 3690214
ISBN: 9781321582604
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