Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2016

Access Restrictions


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Cole, Reneè S.

First Committee Member

Becker, Nicole

Second Committee Member

Bowden, Ned

Third Committee Member

Mason, Sara

Fourth Committee Member

Schuh, Kathy L.


In order to understand the influences that instructors and course materials have on student argumentation and conceptual understanding of thermodynamics I analyzed three cases studies of two instructors’ implementation of the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) thermodynamic materials. The POGIL approach is designed to help students learn chemistry while encouraging the development of process skills such as communication and critical thinking. These materials are designed in accordance with the theory of constructivism and include learning cycles to help students’ work together to construct an understanding of chemistry content. However, the facilitation of the materials can vary by instructor and impact student learning. Two aspects of student learning that I was interested in was argumentation and coordination between the macroscopic, symbolic, and sub-microscopic levels of chemistry. I was interested in argumentation because this is a common form of communication in science and students need to learn how to support their claims using reliable evidence. Furthermore, chemistry can be viewed in terms the macroscopic, symbolic, and sub-microscopic levels, but in order to develop a complete understanding of a concept, one needs to understand the concept at all three levels. Therefore it is important for students to be able to use all three levels of reasoning and make connections between levels.

Using discourse analysis I was able to examine how students’ reasoned through and developed an understanding of thermodynamics. By analyzing the student-instructor interactions and course materials I was able determine how these two aspects of a POGIL learning environment influenced students’ use of scientific argumentation and coordination of macroscopic symbolic, and sub-microscopic level reasoning. Data was collected by recording and transcribing student-instructor interactions and conversations from all three cases studies. Analysis involved the coding of classroom transcripts to identify arguments and the instructor’s discursive moves. This revealed how the students constructed arguments and how the instructor was able to encourage student argumentation. Next the arguments, instructor discourse, and course materials were analyzed in terms of macroscopic, symbolic, and sub-microscopic level reasoning. This enabled me to better understand how students’ used information they were presented with by the instructor and materials in their arguments. Lastly, the POGIL materials were analyzed to see how the design of the materials and the nature of the question prompts impacted student argumentation.

It was found that both the instructor and the course materials impact students’ use of macroscopic, symbolic, and sub-microscopic level reasoning in their arguments. Instructors could use questioning moves to help scaffold student argumentation and encourage students to build connections between the macroscopic, symbolic, and sub-microscopic level. In addition, the materials emphasized symbolic level reasoning and many questions do not encourage students to explain their reasoning behind their answers.


Argumentation, Discourse Analysis, Physical Chemistry, POGIL


xiv, 315 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 182-193).


Copyright © 2016 Courtney Lynn Stanford

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Chemistry Commons