The Maryland Physics Expectations (MPEX) Survey

Patricia Laws, Dickenson College

What learning is this evaluation activity designed to assess?

Students' understanding of what science is about and how it is done as well as their expectations as to what goes on in a science course play a powerful role in what they can get out of introductory college physics. This is particularly true when there is a large gap between what the students expect to do and what the instructor expects them to do. The Maryland Physics Expectations (MPEX) Survey is a 34-item Likert-scale (agree-disagree) survey that probes student attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions about physics.

The MPEX is designed to assess the "hidden curriculum" which involves how the understanding of students about the nature of physics and how to learn it changes during a semester of introductory physics instruction.

What is the nature of the teaching/learning that your evaluation has been designed to assess?

When the MPEX Survey was administered pre- and post-instruction to 1500 students taking introductory calculus-based physics at six colleges and universities, a large gap between the expectations of experts and novices was observed. In addition, a tendency for student expectations to deteriorate rather than improve as a result of a semester of introductory physics was also observed in traditional learning environments with separate lectures and weekly laboratories.

Students in Workshop Physics classes at Dickinson College in which lectures were replaced by guided activities were an exception. These students showed a significant improvement in their understanding of the nature of physics and how to study it in three of six categories defined by the MPEX authors. (Here "improvement" is defined as giving post test answers that are more in line with those given by a group of experienced introductory physics teachers.) Thus, the MPEX Survey can tell us something about the impact that different learning environments have on student epistemologies.

What advice would you give others using this evaluation?

For use with Geoscience students, I'd suggest modifying some of the questions to make them more relevant to an interdisciplinary field science.

What particular aspects would you like feedback on?

I think it would be interesting for this Geoscience Evaluation Workshop group to just look the first two of five subsets of questions identified by the authors:
INDEPENDENCE
Favorable: takes responsibility for constructing own understanding
Unfavorable: accepts what is given by authorities (teacher, text) without evaluation
Questions that Address Independence: 1, 8, 13, 14, 17, 27

COHERENCE
Favorable: believes physics needs to be considered as a connected, consistent framework
Unfavorable: believes physics can be treated as unrelated facts or "pieces"
Questions that Address Coherence: 12, 15, 16, 21, 29

Related Files

Student Expectations in Introductory Physics Article (Acrobat (PDF) 130kB Mar24 05)
MPEX Survey (Acrobat (PDF) 83kB Mar24 05)
Using the MPEX Survey (Acrobat (PDF) 165kB Mar24 05)
MPEX Excel for Analysis of Student Response (Excel 271kB Mar24 05)
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