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[Phys-L] Re: Goals of the Introductory Course

----- Original Message -----
From: "Joseph Bellina" <jbellina@SAINTMARYS.EDU>

Sadly, I don't believe the ability to solve a problem or set of
problems, no matter has carefully crafted, will tell you if students
understand the content. There is lots of data, not just the FCI which
strongly suggests that students can solve the problems at the end of the
chapter and not understand the conceptual content. I suspect problem
solving is a necessary but not sufficient indicator of learniing.

I would say that this is nonsense. If one can construct a way to assess
conceptual content--FCI for example--and one can construct problems (every
text book known), then certainly one can craft problems that contain both,
and both at the same time. This may not be easy and may certainly not look
like standard back of chapter problems, but I can see no fundamental hurdle
to doing so. To be sure, it is usually easier to separately test conceptual
knowledge and problem solving skills, but there is no reason such can't be
combined. In fact, one can see aspects of the FCI questions in many
problems--net force = 0 at constant velocity is a concept hit hard in the
FCI and is an integral part of many problems. What good assessment problems
have to avoid is being structured exactly like example problems in the
books--such that memorized algorithms can be used to solve them. This takes
some effort, but it is not all that difficult. Now how well students fare
with such questions.......;-(


Richard W. Tarara
Professor of Physics
Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, Indiana
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