Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Michael C. Wittmann

Second Committee Member

Natasha M. Speer

Third Committee Member

Mary S. Tyler


Students' understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge and their sense of self-efficacy in the construction of scientific ideas impacts their approach to learning in a physics laboratory (Hammer, 1995). This research uses video analysis to explore two polar examples of group epistemological approach within the same laboratory. One group seemed to approach the activities with the goal of answer-seeking, often at the expense of meaningful learning, while the other group seemed to actively engage in idea-construction as they worked through the instructional sequence. Using methods of Interaction Analysis (Jordan & Henderson, 1995), I describe very different behavioral patterns for each group across three spheres of interaction - student interactions with group members, student interactions with space and time, and student interaction with authority. These results suggest that it is possible to assess students' approaches to a laboratory by being attentive to what students say and do as they interact with group members, with the space around them and with authority. The emergent patterns could provide the basis of a teacher toolbox for gauging, whether or not student approach is matched to the intended epistemological goals of the course. In addition to looking at the details of behavior in the classroom, I explored shifts in epistemological approach to physics learning from the beginning of the course to the end of the course with the Maryland Physics Expectation Survey (MPEX2) (McCaskey, 2009). Consistent with previous semesters, whole course results indicated no shift towards favorability in personal or epistemological independence between pre- and post-tests. I also analyzed student survey responses at the beginning of the semester for the entire class, and, more importantly, for the Answer-Seeking Group and the Idea-Constructing Group. I observed a mismatch between behavior observed in class and student response on the MPEX2 questions measuring the extent students see knowledge as constructed or absorbed (independence-epistemology). On the other hand, I observed a match between group behaviors and the questions probing self-efficacy in knowledge construction. These results challenge earlier studies indicating low validity for MPEX2 use as an individual or small-N diagnostic (McCaskey, 2009) and also confirm analysis of the MPEX2 Independence cluster at the sub-category level of independence-personal and independence-epistemology.