Students’ comprehension of graphs may be affected by the characteristics of the discipline in which the graph is used, the type of the task, as well as the background of the students who are the readers or interpreters of the graph. This research study investigated these aspects of the graph comprehension from 152 first year undergraduate physics students by comparing their responses to the corresponding tasks in the mathematics and physics disciplines. The discipline characteristics were analysed for four task-related constructs, namely coordinates, representations, area and slope. Students’ responses to corresponding visual decoding and judgement tasks set in mathematics and kinematics contexts were statistically compared. The effects of the participants’ gender, year of school completion and study course were determined as reader characteristics. The results of the empirical study indicated that participants generally transferred their mathematics knowledge on coordinates and representation of straight-line graphs to the physics contexts, but not in the cases of parabolic and hyperbolic functions or area under graphs. Insufficient understanding of the slope concept contributed to weak performances on this construct in both mathematics and physics contexts. Discipline characteristics seem to play a vital role in students’ understanding, whilst reader characteristics had insignificant to medium effects on their responses.
Part of the book: Theorizing STEM Education in the 21st Century