Assessment of Knowledge Transfer in the Context of Biomechanics

Randolph Hutchison, Clemson University


The dynamic act of knowledge transfer, or the connection of a student's prior knowledge to features of a new problem, could be considered one of the primary goals of education. Yet studies highlight more instances of failure than success. This dissertation focuses on how knowledge transfer takes place during individual problem solving, in classroom settings and during group work. Through the lens of dynamic transfer, or how students connect prior knowledge to problem features, this qualitative study focuses on a methodology to assess transfer in the context of biomechanics. The first phase of this work investigates how a pedagogical technique based on situated cognition theory affects students' ability to transfer knowledge gained in a biomechanics class to later experiences both in and out of the classroom. A post-class focus group examined events the students remembered from the class, what they learned from them, and how they connected them to later relevant experiences inside and outside the classroom. These results were triangulated with conceptual gains evaluated through concept inventories and pre- and post- content tests. Based on these results, the next two phases of the project take a more in-depth look at dynamic knowledge transfer during independent problem-solving and group project interactions, respectively. By categorizing prior knowledge (Source Tools), problem features (Target Tools) and the connections between them, results from the second phase of this study showed that within individual problem solving, source tools were almost exclusively derived from 'propagated sources,' i.e. those based on an authoritative source. This differs from findings in the third phase of the project, in which a mixture of 'propagated' sources and 'fabricated' sources, i.e. those based on student experiences, were identified within the group project work.
This methodology is effective at assessing knowledge transfer in the context of biomechanics through evidence of the ability to identify differing patterns of how different students apply prior knowledge and make new connections between prior knowledge and current problem features in different learning situations. Implications for the use of this methodology include providing insight into not only students' prior knowledge, but also how they connect this prior knowledge to problem features (i.e. dynamic knowledge transfer). It also allows the identification of instances in which external input from other students or the instructor prompted knowledge transfer to take place. The use of this dynamic knowledge transfer lens allows the addressing of gaps in student understanding, and permits further investigations of techniques that increase instances of successful knowledge transfer.