Using think-aloud interviews to characterize model-based reasoning in electronics for a laboratory course assessment

Models of physical systems are used to explain and predict experimental results and observations. The Modeling Framework for Experimental Physics describes the process by which physicists revise their models to account for the newly acquired observations, or change their apparatus to better represent their models when they encounter discrepancies between actual and expected behavior of a system. While modeling is a nationally recognized learning outcome for undergraduate physics lab courses, no assessments of students' model-based reasoning exist for upper-division labs. As part of a larger effort to create two assessments of students' modeling abilities, we used the Modeling Framework to develop and code think-aloud problem-solving activities centered on investigating an inverting amplifier circuit. This study is the second phase of a multiphase assessment instrument development process. Here, we focus on characterizing the range of modeling pathways students employ while interpreting the output signal of a circuit functioning far outside its recommended operation range. We end by discussing four outcomes of this work: (i) Students engaged in all modeling subtasks, and they spent the most time making measurements, making comparisons, and enacting revisions; (ii) each subtask occurred in close temporal proximity to all other subtasks; (iii) sometimes, students propose causes that do not follow from observed discrepancies; (iv) similarly, students often rely on their experiential knowledge and enact revisions that do not follow from articulated proposed causes.
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Physical Review Physics Education Research
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