Forum on Education of the American Physical Society
Blogging in the Physics Classroom
Gintaras K. Duda, Creighton University
Studies have shown that students leave introductory physics courses almost universally less excited about the topic than when they came in. This article details an experiment to address this problem: a course weblog or "blog" which discusses real-world applications of physics and engages students in discussion and thinking outside of class. Students who read, commented on, and were involved with the blog maintained their initially positive attitudes towards physics in contrast to the typical deterioration in attitude seen in students who did not participate in the blog study.
Students’ attitudes towards physics, aptly described as belonging to the hidden curriculum2, have been shown to deteriorate in the normal course of instruction by several studies (and in disciplines other than physics as well)2-4. This is alarming since educational research has established a clear link between student attitude and learning5,6. To this end, we have examined the effectiveness of a course blog in shaping and guiding students' attitudes in an introductory physics course.
There are compelling arguments for using a blog7: (1) blogging can introduce a broad range of topics outside the classroom that cannot be covered in class due to time constraints, (2) blogging tends to increase student excitement for learning and ownership of the process, (3) blogs open up discussions to students who may not otherwise participate in class, and (4) blogging encourages discussion outside of class with a wide variety of viewpoints. Blogging also provides a way for students and instructor to interact, particularly outside of the classroom8. And blogging helps students “see knowledge as interconnected as opposed to a set of discrete facts"9. In other words, blogging, more so than other tools, appears to be a way to address the “hidden curriculum” and affect student attitude in a positive and concrete way.
The blog was integrated into the course as follows: since reading the blog would be on top of the numerous assignments, reading quizzes, and exams that introductory physics students already had to complete, I decided to assign the blog as extra credit. The course instructors posted several times a week to the course blog. The content of the blog mainly focused on how the physics we were currently studying applied to the ``real world" and other fields besides physics, and often integrated a wide variety of physics applets and videos available on the web. For example, a post about friction discussed how geckos are able to scale walls, and a post about electricity featured a YouTube video of lightning striking a car with a subsequent discussion of Faraday cages. Students received a few points of extra credit per week for (1) reading the posts to the course blog during the week and (2) for posting comments to one or more posts. The criteria for student comments were that they be a thoughtful and articulate reflection on the blog post, about a paragraph in length that tied in outside information relevant to the topic in question; the outside information usually resulted in additional research on the topic by students.
Student attitudes were probed with a 5-pt Likert scale survey which was administered as a pre and post test. The results were statistically analyzed using a dependent-samples t-test with a calculation of effect size (treating the Likert survey results as interval data) and as binomial Agree-Disagree plots or Redish plots2 (treating the Likert survey results as ordinal data). Since the brevity of this article does not allow a full presentation of the results, I give one semester’s results as an example. Results are for “reality-link” questions from the attitudinal survey, or those questions which probe students’ ideas of how physics relates to the real world.
Table I: Results from “reality-link" questions for the attitudinal survey, based on a samples-dependent t-test. The difference between the blog and non-blog reading groups was not statistically significant for the pre-test but statistically significant with p < 0.001 for the post-test. Scores have been normalized so that 50% represents a neutral response on the Likert-style attitudinal survey with 100% being the most favorable response possible.
The same data as given above in Table I is presented below as an Agree-Disagree plot below:
Students felt that overall, the blog was helpful in learning the material covered in the classroom, made physics more interesting, and was generally enjoyable. Many students related that the blog was their favorite component of the course. These encouraging results reflect the sustained positive attitude of blog participants on the “reality-link" type questions. Over the course of four semesters, students who regularly read and posted to the blog maintained their initially positive attitudes about physics, whereas students who did not read the blog suffered a general deterioration in attitude (similar to what was seen elsewhere). Blogs, therefore, seem to be a powerful tool to address students’ attitudes towards physics.
1 This work is a summary of a talk given at the Summer 2007 AAPT Meeting in Greensboro, NC, entitled “Blogging in the Physics Classroom: Using a weblog to affect students’ attitudes in introductory physics”; the talk, in turn, is a summary of a full-length article (physics.ed-ph/0708.1759 submitted for publication in AJP).
2 E. Redish, J. Saul, and R. Steinberg, “Student expectations in introductory physics," Am. J. Phys. 66, 212-224 (1998).
3 M. Zeilik, C. Schau, and N. Mattern, “Conceptual Astronomy. II. Replicating conceptual gains, probing attitude changes across three semesters," Am. J. Phys. 67, 923-927 (1999).
4 W. Adams, K. Perkins, N. Podolefsky, M. Dubson, N. Finkelstein, and C. Wieman, “New instrument for measuring student beliefs about physics and learning physics: The Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey," Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 2, 010101 (2006).
5 A. Schoenfeld, “Learning to think mathematically: Problem solving, metacognition, and sense-making in mathematics," in Handbook of Research in Mathematics Teaching and Learning, edited by D.A. Grouws (MacMillan, New York, 1992), 334-370.
6 T. Koballa and F. Crawley, “Attitude-Behavior Change in Science Education: Part II, Results of an Ongoing Research Agenda," Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the
7 R. Ferdig and K. Trammell, “Content Delivery in the 'Blogosphere”, T.H.E. Journal; http://www.thejournal.com/articles/16626.
8 “Blogs move student learning beyond the classroom: An interview with Alex Halavais," Online Classroom Dec., 4-8 (2004).
9 E. Brownstein and R. Klein, “Blogs: Applications in Science Education,'' J. Col. Sci. Teach. 35 v. 6, 18-22 (2006).