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Epistemic complexity and the journeyman-expert transition

Author(s): Thomas J. Bing | Edward F. Redish

Journal: Physical review special topics. Physics education research
ISSN 1554-9178

Volume: 8;
Issue: 1;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Physics students can encounter difficulties in physics problem solving as a result of failing to use knowledge that they have but do not perceive as relevant or appropriate. In previous work we have demonstrated that some of these difficulties may be epistemological. Students may limit the kinds of knowledge that they use. For example, they may use formal manipulations and ignore physical sense making or vice versa. Both beginning (novice) and intermediate (journeymen) students demonstrate these difficulties. Learning both to switch one’s epistemological lens on a problem and to integrate different kinds of knowledge is a critical component of learning to solve problems in physics effectively. In this paper, we present two case studies in which journeyman students (upper-division physics majors) demonstrate switching between epistemological resources in approaching a complex problem. We conjecture that mastering these epistemological skills is an essential component of learning complex problem solving in physics.
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