Change in students’ attitudes of learning physics in the live sciences

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Change in students’ attitudes of learning physics in the live sciences

Students with non-physics majors often lack a motivational incentive in studying physics, and they struggle in viewing physics as a valuable subject for their own discipline. To overcome these motivational issues, we have reformed a first year introductory physics lecture.

Based on the overarching learning goal that students should be able to identify, describe and solve physical problems in their own discipline, physics concepts are now linked to a wide range of concrete examples taken from biology, medicine and chemistry.

By making physics more accessible, we investigated if students also changed their attitudes and beliefs of learning physics.

CLASS (Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey) is a common and well-established questionnaire to probe the students’ beliefs about physics and about learning physics. CLASS consists of 42 statements for which students are asked to agree or disagree using a five-point Likert scale. Of these 42 statements, 36 are scored by comparing a student’s response to the expert’s response. 26 statements are grouped into 8 categories that characterize a specific aspect of student thinking. Up to now, the CLASS instrument has been used for a large variety of attitudinal studies within different STEM subjects

We offered the CLASS as an online survey for two student cohorts as a pretest in week 1 and as a posttest in week 13. The presented results are based on the combination of both cohorts.

Results according to our research questions
1. Did expert-like attitudes improve over the semester? Shifts between pre- and posttest are either non-significant or negative. All negative shifts, however, have small effect sizes.

2. Is there a difference linked to the study programs? The results for students with a major in biology and for those with a major in pharmaceutical studies are similar.

3. Are there gender differences? Female scores are less expert-like in the categories «Personal Interest» and «Real World Connection». For «Personal Interest», the effect of the gender difference is small. For «Real World Connection», however, the gender difference has a medium effect size.

4. Are the shifts linked to the exam performance? There isn’t any relevant correlation between individual shifts and the achieved grade in the final exam.


Based on results from the literature, the supportive feedback from the student evaluations and on students’ active engagement, we had expected positive results. However, former studies already showed that, especially in large classes and with non-physics majors, the initial scores in CLASS tend to deteriorate considerably. In our case, with more or less unchanged attitudes, we could not replicate these findings. The transition period of only 12 weeks might have been too short for gaining more conclusive results. At the moment, we are running the same study in a two-semester course and we are looking forward to exploring the results in 2021 and also to digging further into the gender differences.



Expert‐like scores on pre‐test and on post‐test


Expert‐like shifts by gender and linked to the final exam grades