Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Lisa C. Yamagata Lynch

Committee Members

Mehmet Aydeniz, J. Patrick Biddix, Marianne Breinig, Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon


‘Studio physics’ learning environments are expected to sophisticate learners’ thinking such that a well-organized network of connections is developed, between concepts, their disciplinary representations, and reality. However, most existing assessments are not designed to explicitly capture the connections made, missed, or the misconnections in learners’ thinking. Four technologies were interfaced in this study, to develop and test an assessment framework which utilized the lens of epistemic network analysis, to enable the capture and quantization of cognitive connections. A mixed methods research design was adopted to collect and analyze qualitative observations of learners’ thinking, as thirty-eight students from two different Sections of a non-Majors physics course, collaborated in groups of three, to complete inquiry tasks of four different ‘experiments’ covering the content of ‘electric circuits’, during one studio lab session. Technologies used were – Twitter, to receive student responses to probing questions sent to them before and after each experiment; Spreadsheet to qualitatively code learners’ responses; ENA Web Tool 4.0, to model the co-occurrences of codes as network graphs and matrices; RStudio to extract quantitative information about the network structure and compute sophistication measures.‘Epistemological beliefs about the physical sciences’ survey was used to confirm that participants’ beliefs were novice-like, and therefore, context-sensitive. Qualitative analyses revealed that learners’ epistemic constructions of concepts, differentiated by the type and source of knowledge – canonical physics, concrete-intuitive physics, or abstract-intuitive physics. Network analyses revealed that connections between knowledge elements differentiated by the strength and type of connections – canonical, transitional, intuitive 1, or intuitive 2. Quantitative analyses revealed negative sophistication gains for two experiments, zero for one, and positive gains for only one inquiry experiment. Internal consistency reliability of sophistication measures was found to be high, and discriminant validity of the assessment instrument was established with four existing assessments administered before, during, and after the studio session. This study demonstrated that qualitative observations of learners’ thinking could be reliably transformed into quantitative measures of sophistication of thinking, using the QOT2SM framework. Such assessments are significant for evaluating learner differences in thinking, which in turn have implications for ensuring and inquiring equity in practice and research respectively.

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