Paper No. 13
Presentation Time: 4:45 PM
USE OF PHYSICAL MODELS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY TO EXPLORE STUDENT DIFFICULTIES IN DEVELOPING RICH MENTAL MODELS OF COMPLEX EARTH & ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEMS
The construction and manipulation of mental models allows students to organize scientific knowledge and reason about Earth & environmental issues. The formation of authentic and accurate student mental models of Earth systems may present unique cognitive difficulties because of the complex and dynamic nature of these systems. Students abilities to connect rich mental models and the reality of real world phenomena are mediated by multiple representations, including both digital and physical expressions of Earth systems. Therefore, in order to facilitate enhanced student mental model development in undergraduate geoscience students, multiple representations were used as the pedagogical intervention in this work. This research seeks to develop learning modules and assess student difficulties when coupling IT-based learning with physical model representations in order to foster development of rich mental models of Earth systems in undergraduate students. The manipulation of multiple representations, the development and testing of conceptual models based on available evidence, and exposure to authentic, complex and ill-constrained problems were the components of the framework. Data based on rubric evaluations and principal component analyses suggest students ability to learn during problem-based learning modules is highly influenced by their cognitive skills and content knowledge, where construction of their mental models is directly affected. Sub-clusters of principal component data suggest that students had difficulty with reasoning skills, critical thinking skills, cognitive load issues, linking large/small scale phenomena, and understanding of the characteristics and behaviors of systems. Further, multiple misconceptions and the lack of complexity and completeness in representations of the studied systems were revealed in student mental model expressions. This study illustrates the need to better understand student difficulties in solving complex environmental problems when using IT and physical models, in order to implement the appropriate scaffolding to enhance undergraduate student learning in Earth & environmental science.