This project is one of the first of its kind to explore and exploit the link between cognition and eye movements in the context of physics problem solving. Although this project focuses on problem solving in physics, the results of the research have implications for learning in other STEM disciplines where the use of images is important. Beyond its immediate scope, the project will benefit the field of physics education research by infusing ideas from cognitive psychology regarding visual cueing into physics education research, It will also potentially change the ways visual media are used in physics and other STEM instruction to more effectively facilitate students' learning.
The first study will identify differences in the eye movements of physics experts and novices while solving physics problems with diagrams. Participants will solve introductory physics problems including diagrams whose spatial structure is intimately connected to their solution. This first study will use eye movement measures to test the hypothesis that experts focus on the relevant areas of diagrams, whereas novices tend to focus on the irrelevant areas. The second study will test the hypothesis that visual cueing can change where novices look in diagrams, and thereby improve their problem solving performance.