On the Notion of Conceptual Learning in Undergraduate Physics

M. Radny, C.L. Waters


Methods for improving the quality of student learning continues to be central to research and practice in teaching and learning in tertiary education. Extensive studies have shown that student learning approaches influence their learning conception and outcomes. In particular, it has been shown that learning as simple reproduction of knowledge leads to surface learning approaches, while learning as transformation of knowledge leads to deep learning approaches [1,2]. An important factor in the way students learn appears to be the way knowledge is structured when presented.

In this paper we illustrate how concept maps of the hierarchical organisation of cognitive structure may benefit the preparation, presentation and assessment of course material. The results of a comparison between the concepts presented with those actually assessed in a one semester first year university, introductory physics course show a large imbalance. Concept maps may be effectively used to improve the planning and structure of all components of course presentation in order to more realistically match assessment tasks. Concept maps also help develop relationships and perspectives related to the physics ideas by the students. We illustrate how the maps were used to organize the discussed concepts, and how the new concepts could be incorporated into the map so that the new knowledge becomes an integral part of the existing structure.

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