Initial study of neutral post-instruction responses on the Maryland Physics Expectation Survey

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Epistemological studies generally focus on how students think about their construction of knowledge compared to how experts think about the same ideas. Instruments such as the MPEX and CLASS use a Likert scale to gauge whether students agree or disagree with how experts think about the same ideas. During analysis, five point scale responses are typically reduced to favorable, neutral, and unfavorable with neutral being treated as a nonresponse. What if students are actively selecting neutral and not treating it as a "does not apply?" To address this question we chose to analyze the postinstruction neutral responses of students in our Physics I course using data from multiple years, multiple sections, and multiple instructors. We found that classroom average postinstruction neutral responses were consistently within a band of 15%-25% and that this was also consistent with other published results. It is not yet clear what this pattern means. Is this a measure of students receiving mixed messages from instructors or a measure of a transitional stage that students go through when learning how to be a good college physics student? These initial findings are interesting enough that we are presenting them here with a more detailed question-by-question analysis to be published in the near future. For example, high levels of neutral responses to applied questions (e.g., "All I need to do is. ...") may indicate that students are receiving mixed messages from instructors. On the other hand, high levels of neutral responses to conceptual questions (e.g., "Knowledge in physics...") may indicate that students are in a transitional stage between novice and expert.

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Physical Review Physics Education Research

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