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Department of Physics

Dr. Rosemary S. Russ

Department of Curriculum and Instruction

University of Wisconsin, Madison

Rosemary Russ
Epistemology in Undergraduate Physics:
What is it and why does it matter?
102 Cardwell Hall
January 23, 2017
4:30 p.m.

Students - both those in elementary school and those in college – have an incredible capacity to engage in sophisticated reasoning about the physical and natural world. However, we often do not see them doing so in our undergraduate physics courses. In this talk, I explore possible reasons why that might be, and advocate for one explanation involving their expectations for what constitutes knowledge and knowing in our classes. Specifically, I examine how students' expectations about the nature of learning in science – their epistemologies - impact the types of conceptual knowledge they bring to bear in physics. Further, I emphasize the importance of teachers and instructors being aware of the messages they send students about what it means to "learn" in their courses. I argue that although these messages are subtle, they can none-the-less have dramatic short- and long-term effects on students' epistemologies and engagement in science learning. I draw on data from a variety of studies with both students and teachers to demonstrate the intuitive plausibility of these claims and to illustrate the potential productivity of attending to epistemology in undergraduate physics.