MacKenzie R. Stetzer
MacKenzie R. Stetzer
Associate Professor of Physics/Acting Department Chair
and member of the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education
Office: 117 Bennett Hall
Office Phone: 207.581.1015
- 1993 A.B. Physics (summa cum laude), Bowdoin College
- 2000 Ph.D. Physics, University of Pennsylvania
Since 2001, I have been conducting research on the learning and teaching of physics. My research agenda is informed by a pragmatic, overarching goal of improving the learning and teaching of physics at all levels. As such, I tend to favor research efforts that may guide the development of research-based and research-validated instructional materials and strategies.
Currently, my scholarly activities primarily involve: (1) investigating the nature of student reasoning in physics and designing interventions to probe and support student reasoning skills, (2) investigating student learning in physics and engineering courses on analog electronics, and (3) investigating the high school to college instructional transition and using the findings to inform faculty professional development efforts.
- Investigating the nature of student reasoning in physics and designing interventions to probe and support student reasoning skills.
For more than 30 years, research-based materials developed by the physics education research community have helped transform introductory physics instruction. Many of these materials focus on the development of student conceptual understanding, place considerable emphasis on qualitative inferential reasoning, and scaffold that reasoning via carefully crafted sequences of questions. An emerging body of research, however, suggests that poor student performance on certain physics tasks – even after research-based instruction – may stem more from the nature of student reasoning itself than from specific conceptual difficulties. As part of a larger, multi-institutional effort to investigate and characterize the nature of student reasoning in physics, we have been developing and testing instruments and methodologies to probe student reasoning in greater detail. The findings from these tasks continue to provide insight into the extent to which some reasoning phenomena in physics may be accounted for by dual-process theories of reasoning and decision-making.
- Investigating student learning in physics and engineering courses on analog electronics
There are many important learning goals associated with upper-division laboratory instruction; however, until recently, relatively little work has focused on assessing the impact of these laboratory-based courses on students. As part of an ongoing, in-depth investigation of student learning in upper-division laboratory courses on analog electronics, we have been examining the extent to which students enrolled in these courses develop a robust and functional understanding of both canonical electronics topics (e.g., diode, transistor, and op-amp circuits) and foundational circuits concepts (e.g., Kirchhoff’s laws and voltage division). This focus on conceptual understanding is motivated in part by a large body of research revealing significant student difficulties with simple dc circuits at the introductory level and by expectations that students finish electronics courses with a level of understanding suitable for building circuits for a variety of practical, real-world applications. The findings of this work are being used to guide the development of research-based and research-validated instructional materials. We have also extended the scope of our investigation to include more laboratory-focused learning goals such as the development of (1) troubleshooting proficiency and (2) circuit chunking and design abilities.
- Investigating the high school to college instructional transition and using the findings to inform faculty professional development efforts
This work (in collaboration with colleagues at Cornell University, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and the University of Virginia) employs classroom observation protocols (e.g., COPUS), video analysis, and surveys to investigate the instructional transition from high school to college in STEM. We have investigated student expectations about university-level STEM instructional practices, student concerns, the ways in which instructors use the first day of class, and the extent to which instructor messaging is received by students. As part of this project, we have also run faculty learning communities for instructors of large-enrollment introductory STEM courses in which the instructors used data about the transition to guide instructional modifications.
Other areas of interest include TA and K-12 teacher ability to assess student understanding, the professional development of TAs and future physics faculty, and student understanding of mechanical waves and physical optics.
- Links: Physics Education Research Laboratory http://www.umaine.edu/per/