Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Physics

Advisor's Name

Eric Brewe

Advisor's Title

Committee Chair

Advisor's Name

Laird H. Kramer

Advisor's Name

Bernard S. Gerstman

Advisor's Name

David T. Brookes

Advisor's Name

Suzanna M. Rose

Keywords

physics education, gender, self-efficacy, Modeling Instruction

Date of Defense

10-24-2011

Abstract

The underrepresentation of women in physics has been well documented and a source of concern for both policy makers and educators. My dissertation focuses on understanding the role self-efficacy plays in retaining students, particularly women, in introductory physics. I use an explanatory mixed methods approach to first investigate quantitatively the influence of self-efficacy in predicting success and then to qualitatively explore the development of self-efficacy. In the initial quantitative studies, I explore the utility of self-efficacy in predicting the success of introductory physics students, both women and men. Results indicate that self-efficacy is a significant predictor of success for all students. I then disaggregate the data to examine how self-efficacy develops differently for women and men in the introductory physics course. Results show women rely on different sources of self-efficacy than do men, and that a particular instructional environment, Modeling Instruction, has a positive impact on these sources of self-efficacy. In the qualitative phase of the project, this dissertation focuses on the development of self-efficacy. Using the qualitative tool of microanalysis, I introduce a methodology for understanding how self-efficacy develops moment-by-moment using the lens of self-efficacy opportunities. I then use the characterizations of self-efficacy opportunities to focus on a particular course environment and to identify and describe a mechanism by which Modeling Instruction impacts student self-efficacy. Results indicate that the emphasizing the development and deployment of models affords opportunities to impact self-efficacy. The findings of this dissertation indicate that introducing key elements into the classroom, such as cooperative group work, model development and deployment, and interaction with the instructor, create a mechanism by which instructors can impact the self-efficacy of their students. Results from this study indicate that creating a model to impact the retention rates of women in physics should include attending to self-efficacy and designing activities in the classroom that create self-efficacy opportunities.

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