Using reflective writing and textual explanations to evaluate students’ conceptual knowledge

Goncher, Andrea & Boles, Wageeh W. (2015) Using reflective writing and textual explanations to evaluate students’ conceptual knowledge. In Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference (AAEE 2015), 6-9 December 2015, Geelong, Vic. (Unpublished)

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  • Writing is one method used to prompt students to reflect on their own thought processes. Eliciting students’ explanations in the form of text, or writing, also provides lecturers with information about students’ thinking (Goncher, Boles, Jayalath, 2014; Boles, Goncher, Jayalath, 2015). Often in engineering courses, students adopt algorithmic problem-solving approaches without demonstrating conceptual reasoning. Adding a written, or explanatory component, to problems or questions is one approach that can elicit conceptual reasoning.


  • The purpose of this study was to identify and compare affordances of using students’ written explanations based the type of problem and response. This comparative study sought to answer two research questions, 1) How were the students’ textual answers different for the type of problem and requested explanations? and 2) What does the type and organization of the text of students’ explanations reveal about their conceptual knowledge?


  • We analyzed students’ explanations for procedurally based problems in the statics discipline and conceptually based problems in the signal processing discipline. The first method used “process problems” that required students to explain, using only words, the process that they used to solve a statics homework problem. The second method utilized the Signals and Systems Concept Inventory items, and required students to provide a written explanation for their multiple-choice selection to each item. We categorized responses by the type of problem and structure of the written explanations to evaluate conceptual knowledge.


  • We found that the structure of the text and type of problem provided different insights into students’ reasoning. The results showed that students approach learning in statics with varying emphasis placed on procedural and conceptual knowledge, and some students had difficulties explaining underlying concepts in signal processing and reverted to procedural explanations. Regardless of the type of problem, students that are able to get feedback on their thought processes can use the feedback to formatively evaluate their own understanding.


  • Educators who incorporate or require students to reflect on their thinking through textual explanations can promote the revision of incorrect and/or inconsistent knowledge, leading to improved conceptual knowledge development. Assignments or activities that include more incidental writing will engage students in more freethinking and reflection (Essig et al., 2014;Hawkins, Coney, & Bystrom, 1996), and can lead to a richer understanding of technical concepts.

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ID Code: 95632
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Conceptual reasoning
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2015 The Author(s)
Deposited On: 25 May 2016 23:18
Last Modified: 26 May 2016 14:14

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