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“Shut up and calculate”: the available discursive positions in quantum physics courses
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Physics Didactics. Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Centre for Gender Research.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8180-5369
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Physics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Physics Didactics.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Centre for Gender Research.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Chemistry, Department of Chemistry - Ångström, Physical Chemistry.
2018 (English)In: Cultural Studies of Science Education, ISSN 1871-1502, E-ISSN 1871-1510, Vol. 13, no 1, p. 205-226Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Educating new generations of physicists is often seen as a matter of attracting good students, teaching them physics and making sure that they stay at the university. Sometimes, questions are also raised about what could be done to increase diversity in recruitment. Using a discursive perspective, in this study of three introductory quantum physics courses at two Swedish universities, we instead ask what it means to become a physicist, and whether certain ways of becoming a physicist and doing physics is privileged in this process. Asking the question of what discursive positions are made accessible to students, we use observations of lectures and problem solving sessions together with interviews with students to characterize the discourse in the courses. Many students seem to have high expectations for the quantum physics course and generally express that they appreciate the course more than other courses. Nevertheless, our analysis shows that the ways of being a “good quantum physics student” are limited by the dominating focus on calculating quantum physics in the courses. We argue that this could have negative consequences both for the education of future physicists and the discipline of physics itself, in that it may reproduce an instrumental “shut up and calculate”-culture of physics, as well as an elitist physics education. Additionally, many students who take the courses are not future physicists, and the limitation of discursive positions may also affect these students significantly.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018. Vol. 13, no 1, p. 205-226
Keywords [en]
Physics, Higher education, Quantum physics, Discourse, Identity
National Category
Physical Sciences Educational Sciences Gender Studies
Research subject
Physics with specialization in Physics Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-267306DOI: 10.1007/s11422-016-9742-8OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-267306DiVA, id: diva2:872722
Available from: 2015-11-20 Created: 2015-11-20 Last updated: 2018-03-29Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Uniformity in physics courses and student diversity: A study of learning to participate in physics
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Uniformity in physics courses and student diversity: A study of learning to participate in physics
2015 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This licentiate thesis describes an investigation of participation and achievement in undergraduate physics courses with a discourse analytical lens. Issues of unequal participation have been a growing concern for the physics education research community. At the same time, these issues have not been explored to any large extent using already developed theoretical tools from fields of social science and humanities. This thesis builds on earlier studies in physics education research but crosses disciplinary boundaries to bring in perspectives from gender studies. The two papers use a discourse theoretical framework to explore what it might mean to participate in physics, whether that is one’s primary subject or not, in courses in electromagnetism and quantum physics. A general conclusion that can be drawn from these empirical studies is that physics courses may often be taught from a narrow physics perspective, and that this may limit the possibilities for identification for many students. For instance, engineering students whose main area was not physics failed to see much significance in studying electromagnetism and then just “studied to pass”. Additionally, students on physics programmes may find that the limited positions in quantum physics which can be characterized as mainly focused on “calculating”, are hard to reconcile with their interest in physics. Using a discourse perspective, I broaden this critique to a discussion of the culture of physics: What does it mean to become a physicist and what physics culture follows from different “productions” of physicists? These results inform continued research in physics education by raising issues of identity and providing critical frameworks for exploring them. They also point to the importance of including broad views of physics in courses. Critically examining participation in physics, this thesis aims at widening the discussion and provide new ways to talk about these issues in physics education research.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: , 2015. p. 59
Keywords
undergraduate physics education, science participation, discourse, identity, subject position, quantum physics, electromagnetism
National Category
Physical Sciences Educational Sciences Gender Studies
Research subject
Physics with specialization in Physics Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-267308 (URN)
Presentation
2015-12-18, Polhemsalen, Ångströmlaboratoriet, Lägerhyddsvägen 1, Uppsala, 10:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2016-03-18 Created: 2015-11-20 Last updated: 2016-03-18Bibliographically approved

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Johansson, AndersAndersson, StaffanSalminen-Karlsson, MinnaElmgren, Maja

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