Computation is becoming an increasingly important part of physics education. However, there are currently few theories of learning that can be used to help explain and predict the unique challenges and affordances associated with computation in physics. In this study, we adapt the existing theory of computational literacy, which posits that computational learning can be divided into material, cognitive, and social aspects, to the context of undergraduate physics. Based on an exploratory study of undergraduate physics computational literacy, using a newly developed teaching tool known as a computational essay, we have identified a variety of student practices, knowledge, and beliefs across these three aspects of computational literacy. We illustrate these categories with data collected from students who engaged in an initial implementation of computational essays in a 3rd-semester electricity and magnetism class. We conclude by arguing that this framework can be used to theoretically diagnose student difficulties with computation, distinguish educational approaches that focus on material vs cognitive aspects of computational literacy, and highlight the benefits and limitations of open-ended projects like computational essays to student learning.
This item's license is: Attribution 4.0 International