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An investigation of undergraduate students’ scientific inquiry processes in a physics laboratory

Ünal, Cezmi
The aim of this study is to investigate undergraduate students’ scientific inquiry processes in a physics laboratory designed using problem-based learning. Case study, one of the qualitative research methods, was employed for this aim. Sixteen undergraduate students were participated in this study. Participants conducted inquiry activities for five weeks. The data sources were the observations of participants while they were doing inquiry activities and the laboratory work sheets filled by the participants. A framework suggested by Klahr and Dunbar (1988) in Scientific Discovery as Dual Search model was used to gain better understanding of scientific inquiry process. In this framework, inquiry process consist of three phases; hypothesis formation, designing and conducting experiments, and evidence evaluation. The variations on the participants’ scientific inquiry processes were analyzed and categorized for each phase of inquiry. Participants’ hypothesis formation processes were categorized based on the nature of sources used by the participants and how these sources were used. The emerging categories were labeled as “concept-based hypothesis formation”, “equation-based hypothesis formation”, and “context-based hypothesis formation”. Participants’ designing and conducting experiment processes were categorized into two types: “Systematic manipulations” and “unsystematic manipulations”. “Haphazard manipulation of variables” and “using two manipulated variable simultaneously” were the two different types of observed unsystematic manipulations. Lastly, participants’ evidence evaluation processes were categorized based on the driving sources: “Data-driven evidence evaluation” and “prior knowledge-driven evidence evaluation”. Detailed descriptions of these categories were presented with examples.