Academic success in physics and civil engineering with particular regard to mathematical competence

Hans E. Fischer, Martin Lang, Axel Lorke, Jochen Menkenhagen
all University of Duisburg-Essen
Andreas Borowski, University of Potsdam

Scientific assistants:
Elmar Dammann, Joachim Müller

It is the aim of this project to model and identify basic relations between mathematics-related modelling and different other components of students’ success in studying the two subjects physics and civil engineering, during the introductory phase of their Bachelor studies at university. Physics and civil engineering are particular suitable for a comparison because their curricula are extremely compatible regarding mechanics but the studies aim at different kinds of mathematization. Mathematical modelling is used in physics for describing physics phenomena whereas in engineering it is used for calculating technical constructions. On the basis of the assumed differences between the cognitive demands when solving problems, a model will be developed to identify those differences and to relate students’ ability of mathematization to their success of studies during their first two years at university. Mathe­matical modelling will be operationalized by means of a subject-related (physics/engineering) test instrument covering the content area of mechanics. According to the model, students’ basic competences of mechanics are addressed as well as their competences in mathematics modelling related to physics or engineering. Based on the results of this test with physics and engineering students and on the variables described in this proposal, the relations between the ability of subject-dependent mathematical modelling and success of the studies will be investigated. Therefore, success is operationalized as results of written exams, competence gains and continuance in studies. In addition, the model is utilized to analyse the lectures and exercises on these two subjects to find hints for necessary changes. Based on the description of these relations to increase students’ success in studying physics and civil engineering, intervention studies can be performed to restructure and optimize the related studies. 


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