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ERIC Number: EJ1076811
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015
Pages: 15
Abstractor: As Provided
ISSN: EISSN-1554-9178
Grasping the Second Law of Thermodynamics at University: The Consistency of Macroscopic and Microscopic Explanations
Leinonen, Risto; Asikainen, Mervi A.; Hirvonen, Pekka E.
Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, v11 n2 p020122-1-020122-15 Jul-Dec 2015
This study concentrates on evaluating the consistency of upper-division students' use of the second law of thermodynamics at macroscopic and microscopic levels. Data were collected by means of a paper and pencil test (N = 48) focusing on the macroscopic and microscopic features of the second law concerned with heat transfer processes. The data analysis was based on a qualitative content analysis where students' responses to the macroscopic- and microscopic-level items were categorized to provide insight into the consistency of the students' ideas; if students relied on the same idea at both levels, they ended up in the same category at both levels, and their use of the second law was consistent. The most essential finding is that a majority of students, 52%-69% depending on the physical system under evaluation, used the second law of thermodynamics consistently at macroscopic and microscopic levels; approximately 40% of the students used it correctly in terms of physics while others relied on erroneous ideas, such as the idea of conserving entropy. The most common inconsistency harbored by 10%-15% of the students (depending on the physical system under evaluation) was students' tendency to consider the number of accessible microstates to remain constant even if the entropy was stated to increase in a similar process; other inconsistencies were only seen in the answers of a few students. In order to address the observed inconsistencies, we would suggest that lecturers should utilize tasks that challenge students to evaluate phenomena at macroscopic and microscopic levels concurrently and tasks that would guide students in their search for contradictions in their thinking. [This paper is part of the Focused Collection on Upper Division Physics Courses.]
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Finland
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A