Factors influencing conceptual understanding in introductory college physics courses

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Higher Education

First Committee Member

John H. Croghan, Committee Chair

Second Committee Member

R. H. Williams, Committee Member


The purpose of this study was to identify important factors that may have a predictive and correlational validity for the successful comprehension of physics principles in introductory college physics courses. A total of 163 students from three campuses of Miami-Dade Community College, taught by six different professors, participated in the study. Students with incomplete data were excluded, reducing the sample to 152.This study was conducted using a multiple regression design. Visualization ability, course name, gender, ethnicity, math proficiency, grade point average, and previous physics knowledge (whether or not a student had taken high school physics) were identified as independent variables, with conceptual understanding of physics as the dependent variable.Correlation and regression procedures, as well as other statistical tests, were conducted in order to explore relationships among the variables and to determine the most parsimonious model for prediction of conceptual understanding.Analysis indicated that visualization ability was the most important variable for prediction of conceptual understanding of physics. Other variables, in order of importance, were the type of physics course, having taken high school physics and overall grade point average.Although males and females did not differ in math proficiency and in grade point average, males generally had a stronger math background than females. More males had taken high school physics and more of them enrolled in physics that required higher level mathematics. Higher conceptual understanding of physics was associated with being male, with taking calculus-based physics, with higher levels of visualization ability, with higher GPA and with having had high school physics.In addition to the above statistical procedures, students' incorrect answers were analyzed in order to identify misconceptions and how these correlated with conceptual understanding and other variables. Students had all types of physics misconceptions and these correlated negatively with conceptual understanding.


Education, Community College; Education, Sciences; Education, Higher

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