An exploration of student response to an active learning environment in an upper-level quantum physics course
Tallman, Brett Pierson
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The passive-lecture model pervades the post-secondary STEM environment, though little evidence supports it. While more interactive models are not uncommon, especially for smaller classes, they often only marginally address deep concerns about the passive-lecture model, such as personal experience, group interactions, etc. While active learning approaches are being used more, little is known about how advanced students respond in STEM to long-term interventions. This case study qualitatively explored response to a semester-long active learning intervention in one upper-level quantum mechanics course, from an engagement perspective. The study identified ten themes that described participant response: Time Pressure, Vibrancy, Group Activities, Public Work, Individual Work, More Natural Over Time, Students Differ, Community Matters, Hard but Rewarding, and Implementation Difficulties. These results largely align with existing literature on the effects of active learning. However, the results also reflected aspects of the advanced STEM learning experience that are unique, such as motivation, community, student preference, and metacognition. These results indicate more inquiry is needed into factors surrounding the advanced STEM student learning experience if we are to improve the learning environment.