Volume 14 · Number 3 · Pages 272–283
Studying Conceptual Change in Classrooms: Using Association Rule Mining to Detect Changes in Students’ Explanations of the Effects of Urban Planning and Social Policy

Arthur Hjorth & Uri Wilensky

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Context: Conceptual developments in our understanding of knowledge are merging with machine-learning methods for making sense of data. This creates new, and interesting ways in which we can document and analyse knowledge, and conceptual change. Problem: Currently, the study of conceptual change is often limited to small sample sizes because of the laborious nature of existing, purely qualitative approaches. Method: We present Association Rule Mining to better measure and understand changes in students’ thinking at the classroom level, based on data collected while implementing a constructionist learning activity in a US college classroom. Association Rule Mining is used on a set of qualitatively coded student responses. We then look at changes in the association rules between students’ responses before and after a learning activity to better understand students’ conceptual change at the classroom level. Results: We find that students converge on a more complete and accurate set of causal claims in their post-responses. Finding these changes would have been difficult or impossible without Association Rule Mining, or a similar approach. This suggests that Association Rule Mining is a potentially fruitful approach to analysing conceptual change at the classroom level. Implications: Adding Association Rule Mining to the arsenal of computational qualitative methods will let us study student data of larger sizes than previously. Constructivist content: Association Rule Mining is agnostic with regard to the ontology of its data. This makes Association Rule Mining a particularly suitable analysis method when taking a constructivist view of learning

Key words: Qualitative research, computational methods, knowledge analysis, education, conceptual change, complex systems thinking, learning sciences, constructionism.


Hjorth A. & Wilensky U. (2019) Studying conceptual change in classrooms: Using association rule mining to detect changes in students’ explanations of the effects of urban planning and social policy. Constructivist Foundations 14(3): 272–283. https://constructivist.info/14/3/272

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