UBC Theses and Dissertations
A case study of university physics students' conceptualization of sound Linder, Cedric J.
This study identified some of the conceptual problems which physics students often encounter when asked, to explain their understanding of topics studied in their undergraduate physics programme. In particular, the study focused on the area of sound and the associated conceptualizations held by a group of physics graduates who were enrolled in a secondary physics teacher education programme. Three aspects of their understanding were scrutinized: conceptualizations of sound per se and the consistency of these conceptualizations across a variety of contexts; conceptualizations of the factors affecting the speed of sound propagation; and, factors influencing their conceptualizations of the similarities and differences between the physics concepts of sound and light. The approach taken was one embedded in phenomenography, an experientially based research perspective developed at Gothenburg University in Sweden. In general terms, phenomenography is the study of the qualitatively different ways in which people conceptualize various aspects of reality and phenomena. The data source was a set of interviews conducted with the students which incorporated a variety of different contexts. These contexts included theory, experimentation and demonstration. The interview protocol was developed in an extensive pilot study which involved a similar group of students. The outcomes of the study yielded an identification and description of the students conceptualizations of sound and provided insights into how these were strongly mediated by: microscopic and macroscopic explanatory perspectives, intuition, language, and a tendency to view much of physics as abstract applied mathematics. While some contexts appeared to provide visual cues which evoked certain kinds of conceptualizations, most conceptualizations tended not to be specifically contextually dependent. As part of the consequences of the study, a recommendation was made for university physics educators to re-evaluate both what they teach and how they teach. In particular, for potential physics teachers, a conceptual approach to teaching undergraduate physics was proposed.
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