Scholarly article on topic 'A small-scale study comparing the impacts of problem-based learning and traditional methods on student satisfaction in the introductory physics course'

A small-scale study comparing the impacts of problem-based learning and traditional methods on student satisfaction in the introductory physics course Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Gamze Sezgin Selçuk, Serap Çalışkan

Abstract This paper presents the findings of a small-scale study comparing the effects of problem-based learning (PBL) and traditional methods on student teachers’ satisfaction with an introductory physics course. The participants in the study were 25 first-year student teachers taking an introductory physics course. In this study, the pre-test/post-test experimental method with an equivalent control group was used. There was one control (n=12) and one experimental group (n=13). The experimental group received physics instruction in PBL format, whereas the control group received traditional instruction. The data were collected using the Student Satisfaction Scale (SSS). Results indicate that the experimental group was more satisfied than the control group.

Academic research paper on topic "A small-scale study comparing the impacts of problem-based learning and traditional methods on student satisfaction in the introductory physics course"

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Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 2 (2010) 809-813

WCES-2010

A small-scale study comparing the impacts of problem-based learning and traditional methods on student satisfaction in the

introductory physics course

Gamze Sezgin Selfuka*, Serap Qali§kana

aDepartment of Secondary Science and Mathematics Education, Dokuz Eylul University, Buca Education Faculty, Izmir, 35160, Turkey Received October 8, 2009; revised December 17, 2009; accepted January 5, 2010

Abstract

This paper presents the findings of a small-scale study comparing the effects of problem-based learning (PBL) and traditional methods on student teachers' satisfaction with an introductory physics course. The participants in the study were 25 first-year student teachers taking an introductory physics course. In this study, the pre-test/post-test experimental method with an equivalent control group was used. There was one control (n=12) and one experimental group (n=13). The experimental group received physics instruction in PBL format, whereas the control group received traditional instruction. The data were collected using the Student Satisfaction Scale (SSS). Results indicate that the experimental group was more satisfied than the control group.

© 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Physics education; pre-service teacher education; problem-based learning; student satisfaction; traditional instruction.

1. Introduction

New research-based instructional approaches have been emerging due to the inadequacy of conventional educational approaches in preparing life-long learners with up-to-date knowledge and keeping pace with the new developments in teaching and learning processes. One of the newly developed instructional approaches is the Problem-Based Learning, one of the best examples of constructivist learning environments (Savery & Duffy, 1995). PBL was first employed in Canada in the 1960s in the Medical Education Department at McMaster University (Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980). Today this teaching approach is used in the educational fields of medical sciences, engineering (Nopiah et al., 2009), law (Moust, 1998), economics, pre-service teacher education (Koray et al., 2008), and in High Schools (Barrows & Kelson, 1993). This approach is constantly increasing in popularity. PBL is a student-centred teaching approach where students can solve problems in small groups and reflect on their experiences. In this approach, the role of the teacher is to guide and facilitate learning (Barrows, 2002). Advocates

* Gamze Sezgin Sel?uk. Tel.: +90-0232-420-48-82; fax: +90-0232-420-48-95 E-mail address: gamze.sezgin@deu.edu.tr

1877-0428 © 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.03.108

of PBL claim that PBL not only helps students in the acquisition of content knowledge but also develops their problem solving skills, critical and creative thinking, leads them to self-directed life-long learning, improves the effectiveness of their communication, cooperative study and self-evaluation skills, and allows them to adapt to changes (Albanese & Mitchell, 1993).

The focus of this study is the use of PBL in pre-service teacher training and the Introductory Physics Course. Although there is a large amount of literature on PBL, studies concerning teaching physics using PBL are quite rare (Duch, 1996; Fasce et al., 2001; Raine & Collett, 2003; van Kampen et al., 2004). An example of research in this field was conducted by Duch (1996). The research shows that active group learning and links to application in the real-world enables undergraduate students to learn and apply knowledge of general physics properly. van Kampen et al. (2004) created an introductory thermal physics module and taught it using PBL in a lecture-based curriculum. All of the students gave positive feedback on the PBL methodology and performed better in the exams than they did before.

In response to the lack of research on PBL-based physics instruction, we took a traditional, lecture-based introductory physics course and restructured it into a PBL format. It is believed that the results of this study which aims to compare the impacts of problem-based learning and traditional methods on student teachers' satisfaction in the introductory physics course will contribute to the existing literature concerned with the teaching of physics.

2. Method

2.1. Subjects

The subjects of this study were 25 first-year student teachers (female=15, male=10) who were enrolled in the Department of Secondary Mathematics Education (SME) at Dokuz Eylul University which is a Turkish medium university in Izmir, a large city in Turkey. Physics is compulsory in this department, and it is offered in two successive semesters (fall and spring) as Physics I (4 credits) and Physics II (4 credits) at the introductory level as calculus-based. Physics I focuses on mechanics concepts and Physics II focuses on electricity and magnetism concepts.

In this study, the pre-test/post-test quasi-experimental method with an equivalent control group was used. There was one control group (traditional instruction, TI group) and one experimental group (PBL group). The students were randomly assigned to the PBL and TI groups, consisting of 12 and 13 students respectively. In the first grouping, students were randomly assigned to the two groups (i.e. PBL-TI groups) by looking at their success rates in the physics course (i.e. Physics I scores) and their gender. A reasonable balance between the two groups was achieved. Besides this, PBL groups (subdivided into two small permanent groups of 6 students) were formed using the method of heterogeneous grouping (according to their success in physics and verbal interaction skills). As suggested by a number of researchers heterogeneous grouping was used because of its positive effects on group performance and communication skills (Wang et al., 2007). The mean ages of the students in the PBL group and the TI group were 18 years and 18.5 years, respectively. The distribution of participants with respect to gender and groups is presented in Table 1.

Table 1. The distribution of participants with respect to gender and groups

Gender PBL n group 1 % PBL n group 2 % n TI group % Total

Female 4 67 3 50 8 62 15

Male 2 33 3 50 5 38 10

Total 6 24 6 24 13 52 25

Note: n: number of participants in groups; %: percentage of participants in groups

2.2. Instruments

The Student Satisfaction Scale. The students' satisfaction with the introductory physics course was measured using the Student Satisfaction Scale (SSS) developed by Sezgin Selguk et al. (2009). The 26-item scale (SSS) has Likert-type items and five-option choices (Totally Agree, Agree, Undecided, Disagree, and Totally Disagree). Cronbach's alpha reliability coefficient of the total scale was 0.92. The scale consists of three dimensions, namely

"satisfaction in learning physics", "quality of instruction" and "teaching methods/activities". The "satisfaction in learning physics" sub-scale consists of fourteen items with a coefficient alpha of 0.92. This dimension consists of items including feelings about learning physics (Physics is an enjoyable lesson). The "quality of instruction" scale consists of five items with a coefficient alpha of 0.80. In this dimension, there are items including statements such as: "The teacher is very knowledgeable about the subject". The "teaching methods/activities" sub-scale consists of seven items with a coefficient alpha of 0.67. A sample item from this sub-scale is: "There are not any activities that students can participate in". Of the 26 items, 14 items were positive and 12 were negative. Positive items were scored using values ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree). Negative items were inversely coded. The maximum score for this scale is 130.

Intervention Instruments. The Turkish translation of the textbook Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern Physics 2 by Serway and Beichner (2000) was used as the textbook in the TI group. In the PBL group, problem-based learning scenario teaching material called "TV Box" was used. The PBL scenario included a tutor and student copy. The tutor copy is a written copy of all of the steps a student needs to take during the scenario (i.e. defining the problem, summarizing, producing hypothesis related to the problem, determining the learning goals, reaching new information by researching, doing numerical analysis of the problem if necessary). In the student copy, the previously mentioned parts were left empty for the students to complete. In the beginning of the PBL sessions, the copies of the scenarios were distributed to each student and tutor. During the sessions, small whiteboards and board markers were used by the students.

2.3. Procedure

The study was conducted during the spring semester in the General Physics II course (which focuses on electricity and magnetism concepts). The duration of the study was four weeks (16 hours of lecture time) from April to May. In both of the groups, the students' satisfaction in the physics course was measured before and after the study. The independent variable was the intervention (the PBL and the traditional instruction). The dependent variables were post-test student satisfaction scores on each of the three sub-scales. To examine the implementation of PBL, some key topics in magnetism (Magnetic Field and Magnetic Forces, Motion of Charged Particles in a Magnetic Field, Magnetic Force on a Current, Force between Parallel Conductors, Biot- Savart and Ampere's Law, Magnetic Flux, Electromagnetic Induction, Faraday's Law, Lenz's Law, Motional Electromotive Force) were chosen for the study. This study started immediately after (i.e. after the pre-test) teaching (with traditional instruction in whole-class format) fundamental electric topics (electrostatic forces, electric fields, electric potentials, capacitors and dielectrics, direct-current circuits). During a ninety-minute lesson in the PBL group, a sample scenario whose topic was different from the ones targeted in the research (the law of gravity and the movement of satellites) was gone through by the teacher and the students. Then, the students were informed about how problem-based learning methods are used (i.e., phases of problem-solving process). In the TI group, the same topics were covered at the same time using the traditional instruction method. During the research, the PBL group (subdivided into two small-groups of 6 students) received physics instruction with problem-based learning format (i.e. using a PBL scenario named TV Box), whereas the TI group received physics instruction using a lecture-based format. Instruction in the PBL group was module-based (i.e. a module of 4 weeks).

The scenario in the module which consisted of four PBL sessions were selected from the course book the TI group used. The magnetism topics previously mentioned were covered in the scenarios and were prepared by the first researcher (with three years of experience in PBL and fourteen years of expertise in the field of physics teaching). The scenario was revised by another researcher (with ten years of experiences in the field of physics education). Consecutive topics within a scenario were linked to each other carefully. The scenario was prepared for students both to learn by searching for information and to implement what they learnt (i.e. both qualitative and quantitative problem-solving) and included complex and real-world problems (i.e. ill-defined or open-ended). In the TI group, about 90% of the topics taught using traditional methods were adapted to the scenario format. The rest of the topics were covered during the sessions by the tutors using open-ended questions and the students brainstormed about them. Teaching in the small PBL groups was done in two separate classrooms with a permanent tutor (i.e. the first and second researcher of this paper) in each of them simultaneously (for four consecutive lecture hours) in a face-to-face setting. The PBL tutors acted as cognitive coaches (guiding, probing, and supporting students' initiatives). In the first three PBL sessions, students were asked to solve two or three new problems (qualitative and/or quantitative problems each connected to each other) working together. In the last session, the scenario consisted of one part and it required the solution of the first problem and revision of all the information learnt. In the TI group, the topics were

presented in traditional lecture format (four lecture hours each week) by the first researcher. The numerical problems solved during the PBL sessions were solved in the traditional problem solving format in the TI group.

2.4. Data Analysis

The data from the Student Satisfaction Scale were analyzed using the SPSS 13.0 statistical analysis program. Frequencies (n), percentages (%), means (M), and standard deviations (SD) were calculated. The non-parametric statistical methods, the Mann-Whitney U test and the Wilcoxon signed-rank test, were conducted. We used an alpha level of 0.05 for all of the statistical tests.

3. Results

Table 2 shows the descriptive statistics of student teachers' pre-test and post-test scores on the three sub-scales of the SSS. Due to the small-sample size, a normal distribution of the dependent variables cannot be assumed; therefore non-parametric tests are required. A series of Mann-Whitney U tests were used to detect any significant differences between the PBL group and the TI group on the pre-test scores. The analysis revealed no statistically significant difference in "satisfaction in learning physics" (U=61.50, p>0.05), "quality of instruction" (U=54.50, p>0.05) and "teaching methods/activities" (U=66.50, p>0.05). Therefore, we found that the two groups were similar to each other with respect to the collective dependent variable for satisfaction.

Table 2. Descriptive statistics for student teachers' satisfaction with the introductory physics course

Pre-test Post-test

PBL group TI group PBL group TI group

(n =12) (n- =13) (n =12) (n =13)

Variable M SD M SD M SD M SD

Satisfaction in learning physics 45.25 6.81 47.23 5.52 46.41 10.05 47.15 5.65

Quality of instruction 14.25 2.66 13.54 2.44 19.75 2.22 15.00 3.74

Teaching methods/activities 23.75 2.76 25.00 2.77 26.42 3.31 25.86 2.07

Total 83.25 9.70 86.07 10.52 92.58 12.81 86.69 11.43

To compare the groups on each post-measure, again, the Mann-Whitney U tests were conducted between the post-test scores of the PBL group and the post-test scores of the TI group. The analysis indicated that there was no significant difference between the groups in the sub-scales satisfaction in learning physics (U=75.50, p>0.05) and quality of instruction (U=76.00, p>0.05) but there was a difference in the sub-scale teaching methods/activities (U=22.00, p<0.05). In order to test the difference between the pre-test scores and the post-test scores, Wilcoxon signed-rank tests were conducted in each group. The pre-test and post-test scores relating to quality of instruction (z=2.63, p<0.05) and teaching methods/activities (z=3.06, p<0.05) sub-scales of the students who were in the PBL group showed a significant difference in favour of the post-test. Even though the difference between the scores of the satisfaction for learning physics sub-scale was in favour of positive ranks (i.e. post-test scores), it indicated that the difference is insignificant (z=0.45, p>0.05). When the TI group's scores are examined, the differences between the scores of satisfaction in learning physics (z=0.49, p>0.05), quality of instruction (z=1.18, p>0.05) and teaching methods/activities (z=1.89, p>0.05) sub-scales were in favour of the post-test scores but were also insignificant.

4. Discussion

The purpose of this study was to compare the effects of problem-based learning and traditional methods on student teachers' satisfaction with the introductory physics course. From the analysis of the data, it is concluded that problem-based learning enhanced the satisfaction of the students in the physics class. Students who received physics instruction in the PBL format showed a more positive attitude towards the physics course than their peers who received traditional instruction. Furthermore, the PBL method enhanced students' satisfaction in two dimensions (quality of instruction and teaching methods/activities). The traditional instruction group made no substantial progress in any of the satisfaction dimensions.

The findings of this study are consistent with those of PBL research in different subject matters (e.g., Fasce et al., 2001; van Kampen et al., 2004). For instance, the research conducted on the physics instruction of first year medical students (Fasce et al., 2001) who were assigned to the problem-based learning group performed significantly better at learning methodology and in the teaching-learning process than those students in the traditional instruction group. In another study by van Kampen et al. (2004), all of the students who received PBL instruction gave positive feedback on the PBL methodology and almost all of them found physics subjects (thermal physics) significantly more interesting and relevant.

Perhaps the success of PBL on student satisfaction can be attributed to its non-authoritarian and student-centered nature of the PBL. In the course of this study, while only a few students in the traditional class participated in the teaching-learning process; all of the students in the PBL group were required to review the learning material (PBL scenario), and to participate actively in their learning process (building hypothesizes, summarizing information, going through the previously learned information, drawing, solving numerical problems etc.). It is thought that students' active engagement in the learning activities carried out in PBL classes might have a positive impact on their attitude towards learning (i.e. taking responsibility for and directing their own learning) and this in turn can enhance their satisfaction with the course.

5. Conclusion and recommendation

This study provides some evidence of the positive effects of using PBL on student teachers' course satisfaction. The PBL method was more effective than traditional methods in improving course satisfaction of the participating students. Limitations of this study include its small sample size (because it threatens the external validity of the research) and time period for study. Thus, the findings may not be generalized. For future research under the same theme, study validity can be strengthened through the choice of larger sampling and extending the length of the treatment period. Further studies on physics instruction with PBL may examine the implications of longer term PBL instruction on affective student variables such as attitude, motivation and satisfaction.

In light of the results of this study, teachers and/or educators who do not use PBL in their instruction programs because of time constraints but want to improve the effectiveness of their instruction, may review the potential benefits of PBL.

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