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Examining student constructed explanations of thermodynamics using lexical analysis

TitleExamining student constructed explanations of thermodynamics using lexical analysis
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsPrevost, LB, Haudek, KC, Urban-Lurain, M, Merrill, JE
Conference NameFrontiers in Education
Date Published10/2012
PublisherFrontiers in Education
Conference LocationSeattle, WA
KeywordsAACR, Assessment, Bloom’s taxonomy, Lexical analysis, text analysis, thermodynamics
Refereed DesignationRefereed
Full Text

Thermodynamics can be challenging to students, thus improving thermodynamics instruction and assessment is an important area of science and engineering education research. Constructed response assessments can reveal the complexity of students’ ideas about thermodynamics. We investigate the use of lexical analysis software for examining students’ constructed responses using a group of three questions related to reaction thermodynamics. These questions were administered to students in a large enrollment undergraduate introductory science course and examined learning at two levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy: comprehension and application. Our results show that students are able to identify correct statements about thermodynamics in a multiple choice context but fail to construct correct explanations using thermodynamic concepts. Lexical analysis revealed that students who provided correct explanations incorporated more correct concepts and/or made more connections among these concepts than did students with incorrect explanations. Lexical analysis provided insight into student understanding by revealing heterogeneous ideas that were masked in multiple choice versions of the assessment.


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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (DUE grants: 1438739, 1323162, 1347740, 0736952 and 1022653). Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.