Uncovering atomic bonding misconceptions with multimodal topic module assessments of student understanding in an introductory materials course

Jacquelyn Kelly, Keith Heinert, Jessica Triplett, Dale Baker, Stephen Krause

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Though much work has been done in physical sciences on misconceptions, little work has been done on misconceptions in the context of structure-property-processing performance relationships in materials used in engineering design. The research question in this paper is, "How can misconceptions for engineering materials be most effectively identified in order to develop effective teaching and learning activities for repairing misconceptions?" For an introductory materials class with 38 students, misconceptions were uncovered, categorized and monitored over the span of a fifteen-week introductory materials science course. To do so, open-ended assessments requiring multiple modes of expressions (sketching and writing) of concepts for various content areas (atomic bonding, crystal structure, deformation, polymers, and electrical properties) were administered before and after each teaching module. A mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative) analysis of student responses on the multimodal assessment was carried out. Student misconceptions were further elicited and categorized using emergent themes coding. Some categories of misconceptions were consistent with literature. Others (such as a magnetic mechanism for bonding and atoms becoming either soft or brittle during deformation) were new and previously unreported. Results indicated that multimodal assessment gave a more effective and a more detailed indicator of student conceptions, misconceptions and conceptual change than a unimodal assessment would have. We propose that, for an introductory materials course, assessments using multimodal expressions of topical concepts will more effectively uncover and assess the nature of student misconceptions. This improved insight into student conceptual frameworks can lead to more effective misconception repair for structure-property relationships about engineering materials than would a traditional assessment. Details of results, analysis, conclusions and implications are presented and discussed in the full paper.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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