Marina Milner-Bolotin


Research Interests

Educational Technologies
educational innovation
Educational technology
physics education
STEM education
STEM teacher education
Science and Knowledge
teacher education
Teacher and Student Performance Evaluation
Teaching and Learning Systems
Technological Innovations

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Research Methodology

quantitative research
Qualitative Research
Mixed methods
action research


Master's students
Doctoral students

Physics education, STEM education

A student who has a B.Sc. in physics or mathematics and a Master's in Education (if it is a Ph.D. applicant) and teacher experience in the field of STEM education.

I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Examining ICT and FoK integration in rural public junior high schools with the Philippines' new K-12 curriculum: a case study (2020)

This is a nested, descriptive, and interpretative case study on the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in science education in select rural public junior high schools in the Philippines. Using mixed methods, the study investigated key challenges faced by science teachers as they integrate ICT in their classes viewed through the lenses of technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge (TPACK) and funds of knowledge (FoK). In-depth quantitative and qualitative analyses were drawn on teachers’ online questionnaires, one-on-one interviews, focus groups, fieldnotes, and observations and reflections on science video-creation workshops. Three overarching findings emerged from the data analyses: TPACK as a foundational professional development enabler; FoK as a bridge to enhance teachers’ TPACK; and the successful implementations of ICT-centred science curriculum and pedagogy as policy- and governance-dependent. These findings described the contained experiences of science teachers as enablers of innovative rural science teaching practices. The study documented how science teachers overcome functional fixedness of educational technology. This, in turn, allowed them to identify the affordances and constraints of such technology. In rural schools where the shortage of educational resources is a perennial problem, prevailing over a state of functional fixedness related to a technology’s particular function and exploring different and more creative ways to use such technology was a highly welcome educational technology crossover. Moreover, this study recorded a positive expansion of science teachers’ TPACK. The expansion was brought about not only by a change in any of the TPACK’s components but by the use of technology along with students’ FoK through science video-creation. This study contributes to our understanding of teaching science with ICT and FoK in rural public high schools. Moreover, it underscores areas for consideration in developing countries with similar circumstances such as the Philippines regarding: (a) centering ICT investments on teachers and teaching; (b) clarifying ICT policies’ terms of implementation, noting that different definitions lead to different policy investments and recommendations; (c) introducing science video-creation as a professional development program for teachers in rural public schools; and (d) recognizing rural public schools and their teachers as places and people of innovation and alternatives of pedagogical effectiveness.

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International students' epistemologies and learning experiences in specially designed first-year chemistry courses (2019)

First-year university science courses are often challenging for a majority of students coming out of high school, with international students having even greater adjustment difficulties. This may be due to differences between the epistemologies held by the students and the epistemological expectations of the science courses. Active learning environments have different epistemological expectations than traditional lectures and international students may have inadequate prior experiences with this mode of learning science. Thus, an exploratory case study approach to investigate first-year international students’ epistemologies and experiences in their chemistry courses within the Vantage One Science Program was conducted. Vantage One Programs, which reside in Vantage College at the University of British Columbia, admits and offers first-year programs to international students from non-English speaking countries. The case study largely employed a mixed methods methodology that used both quantitative and qualitative tools for data collection. To assess the students’ epistemologies, the Epistemological Beliefs about Physical Sciences (EBAPS) instrument was administered three times during the program. The three data sets were analyzed using exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis to determine dominant factors underlying the students’ responses to the items on the EBAPS, interpreted as a description of the key student epistemologies. Student grades from CHEM 121 and CHEM 123 courses were also collected and correlated with scores from the EBAPS questionnaire. Qualitative methods were used to examine students’ epistemologies and their views on their experiences. These methods included classroom observations, one-on-one semi-structured and task-based interviews and focus group interviews. The results indicate that some aspects of student epistemologies transformed over the course of the first year Vantage program while others aspects remained the same. When factors did transform, they transformed towards more canonical epistemologies. Transformations included valuing peers and oneself as a source of science knowledge and becoming more aware of the nature of science. Some of these transformations can be attributed to the pedagogy experienced in Vantage One Science Program, including the use of peer-learning pedagogy and inquiry-based learning. Both qualitative and quantitative data suggest that more canonical views are associated with positive study approaches, problem-solving strategies, and academic performance.

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Investigating Undergraduate Students' Metacognitive Transformations in an Introductory Organic Chemistry Course (2015)

Recently, there has been a considerable number of curricular and pedagogical reform efforts in undergraduate science education to shift from traditional methods of lecturing and assessment to more active, learning-centered environments. While these shifts have introduced significant improvements in students’ conceptions of and engagement with science, the importance of how students learn science is often overshadowed. More specifically, there exists a need to address and enhance students’ metacognitive knowledge and regulation to assist them in effectively monitoring, evaluating, and planning their learning. This study investigated the catalysts that influenced students’ metacognitive transformations in an introductory organic chemistry course for biological science majors. A case study approach employing a combination of surveys, classroom observations, and interviews was used to investigate: 1) the catalysts (and their characteristics) influencing students’ metacognitive transformations; 2) the role of social environments in these transformations; and 3) the supports/barriers various groups of students perceived as influential to their metacognitive transformation. Analysis of the data corpus suggested performance-based assessment methods as the most influential to students’ metacognitive transformations and as overshadowing the resources designed to enhance students’ metacognition and self-efficacy. Despite the desire to engage students with their learning, the results from the SEMLI-S (Self-Efficacy and Metacognition Learning Inventory – Science) survey revealed a significant drop in students’ ability: to connect constructively with the course material; to effectively monitor, evaluate, and plan their learning; and to be confident in their ability to succeed in the course. Students attributed their lack of prerequisite content and metacognitive knowledge and the overwhelming quantity of course content as constraining their ability to actively engage in their learning. Some students, however, successfully employed metacognitiveiistrategies and offered explicit descriptions of how and why they developed and/or adapted their learning strategies prior to or during the course of the semester. This study also provided insight into how students perceived and negotiated their learning, both individually and collaboratively. The findings from this study have implications on how undergraduate science curriculum and pedagogy might embrace learner-centered pedagogies to enhance students’ metacognition and self-efficacy.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Science learning through YouTube comments on science videos embedding movies (2023)

The decline of interest in science and changes in learning approach have led to the emergence of new forms of science learning in the 21st century. While movies have long been used as a teaching tool in science education, embedding them in science videos is a new trend in the rise of video sharing and social media platforms. YouTube, being the dominant platform, features science videos that integrate entertainment into education by incorporating movies into the science content. This study aimed to investigate how embedding movies in science videos might affect the learning process, and how post-video comments on these videos might facilitate or reflect science learning. Using grounded theory methodology, the comments on two science videos were compared: one that embedded a movie and one that did not. In particular, 990 comments were analyzed for a video on the Because Science (BS) channel that integrated Harry Potter into the physics concept of quantum tunneling, and a video on the Up and Atom (UA) channel that explained the same concept in a traditional way. Qualitative content analysis was conducted to determine the differences in the types and characteristics of the comments, as well as their potential learning opportunities and challenges. The results indicate that while comments on UA’s video were more formal and focused on the specific scientific concept, comments on BS’s video were more casual and diverse, with greater involvement with the science and video topic in general. Although comments on regular science videos may serve as a more effective space for knowledge exchange and collaborative learning, these comments may present challenges, such as the potential spread of misinformation due to a lack of knowledge justification. In contrast, embedding movies can offer unique learning opportunities in the comments, such as critical and creative thinking. This approach can facilitate science learning by connecting scientific concepts with familiar and relevant contexts in popular culture. However, it should be used with caution, as it risks diverting attention away from the science content when there are too many audiovisual features in the video and extraneous information in the comments.

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The pedagogical opportunities of PhET Interactive Simulations in secondary science education in Bangladesh (2023)

Science education in Bangladesh is losing its appeal among students at an alarming rate due to the lack of laboratory equipment, high teacher-student ratios, and outdated pedagogies. A research-based, freely available Physics Education Technology (PhET) suite of computer simulations can help teachers address these challenges. Despite their educational potential, PhET simulations are rarely used in Bangladesh. This study explores the challenges Bangladeshi teachers face in learning to implement PhET-enhanced pedagogies and examines teachers’ views of the pedagogical opportunities for PhET simulations in secondary schools. Seven PhET workshops were conducted in Dhaka city for 129 in-service and pre-service teachers before exploring their views and challenges. This study followed an explanatory mixed-method approach that included pre-and post-workshop surveys and five semi-structured interviews with teachers who participated in the workshops voluntarily. The challenges teachers faced were identified from two online questionnaires (pre- and post-workshop), observations during the workshop, and one-on-one interviews. The results suggest that teachers encountered several challenges when implementing PhET simulations. Challenges included difficulty using new technology, time constraints, particularly within the content-dense, exam-oriented, and teacher-centered education system, and a lack of pedagogical skills and sound content knowledge to take full advantage of PhET. Despite these challenges, the teachers believed that PhET simulations could enhance student learning and increase student interest and engagement in STEM Education. The teachers recognized PhET simulations’ potential as a supplement to hands-on activities for Bangladeshi secondary science education.This study suggests options to mitigate some of the challenges identified by participants. Solutions range from booklets and Bengali YouTube instructional videos to a flipped classroom approach, which requires students to access the simulations from home. Additional teacher professional development was also identified as a key strategy to support technology integration and the development of pedagogical skills needed to integrate PhET simulations into practice.Participants believed that as more curriculum-relevant simulations are developed, this technology will revolutionize Bangladeshi science education. Further study is needed to examine how building a professional learning community focused on the use of PhET-enhanced pedagogies might alleviate teachers’ challenges in incorporating this technology to engage students in inquiry-based science learning.

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STEM outreach facilitation as a catalyst for 21st century teacher education (2018)

This study provides an in-depth description of teacher candidates (TCs)’ experiences of their participation in a family-oriented science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach event organized at a Canadian university. In the event, TCs facilitated mentally-engaging hands-on activities to the public as part of a General Science Secondary Methods course. The aim of the study is to further knowledge of the possible role of STEM outreach in teacher education programs, and to learn how this outreach experience impacts TCs’: a) pedagogical content knowledge (PCK); b) communication skills; c) motivation to teach STEM; and d) understanding of how STEM can be taught and learned effectively. This study is situated within a social-constructivist theoretical framework and employed an intrinsic case study methodology with a Partially Mixed Concurrent Dominant Status Design. Although the quantitative facet of the study was given less weight, it informed the analysis of the qualitative data. The data from the pre-event survey (n=29) revealed TCs’ passion for STEM as their greatest self-reported strength, whereas their lack of PCK was self-reported as their greatest limitation. Moreover, the participants predicted that activity facilitation at the event would enhance their teaching skills by allowing them to put their content knowledge into practice to facilitate visitors’ learning experiences. Furthermore, the findings from post-event focus group discussions (n=46) and individual interviews (n=9) indicated that this outreach experience enabled TCs to: a) expand pedagogical content knowledge; b) increase awareness of the role of effective communication on STEM teaching and learning; c) increase or reinforce appreciation of STEM hands-on activities for cognitive and affective reasons; d) enhance or strengthen understanding of the importance of parental engagement with children’s STEM education; and e) put in practice some of the theories learned in the teacher education program. Evidence of the above emerged through TCs’ engagement in the event preparation, activity facilitation at the event, and post-event reflections.

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Growing closer to nature: students' environmental attitudes and perspectives after a field trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (2017)

In this study, I measure the impact of a five-day field trip to a marine science research facility on the environmental attitudes and perspectives of British Columbian secondary science students. I used a descriptive case study that employed a mixed methods approach to address my research questions. To collect quantitative data, the participants completed the New Ecological Paradigm survey (Dunlap & Van Liere, 2008) both before and after the trip to Bamfield Marine Research Station. I then utilized semi-structured focus groups to further elicit participants’ interpretations and reflections about the environmental experience. Analysis of the data indicates the experience did have an impact on student attitudes and perspectives about the environment. The results of the pre-and-post New Ecological Paradigm survey showed that the environmental experience had a statistically significant impact (p=.000) on students’ environmental attitudes and perspectives. The semi-structured focus groups yielded three key findings: (1) participants’ pro-environmental beliefs became strengthened as a result of the environmental experience; (2) participants felt much closer and interconnected with nature as a result of the environmental experience; (3) participants developed a preference towards learning through experiential and environmental education methods, and showed evidence of metacognitive awareness and assimilation throughout the environmental experience.This research provides insights into the impact of environmental and experiential learning pedagogies upon student attitudes about and perspectives on the environment. This research is timely as it provides support for education that addresses environmental issues, such as the potentially irreversible changes to our climate brought on by human actions.

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Technology in middle school science : the effect of student-centered pedagogy on metacognition and conceptual understanding in small group and whole class settings (2015)

Despite the frequent use of classroom response systems (CRS) in university courses, there is lack of research to support effectiveness of these handheld electronic devices (clickers) at the middle school (fifth grade) level. Furthermore, there is a scarcity of research comparing CRS-enhanced pedagogy in the middle school science context with traditional teaching methods. Additionally, research investigating how middle school science students think about their own thinking (metacognition) and how this correlates with a Self-Efficacy and Metacognition Learning Inventory - Science (SEMLI_S) measurement system (Anderson & Nashon, 2007) and Bloom’s taxonomy categories (Bloom, 1965) is equally scarce. My research explores how CRS-enhanced, student-centered pedagogy affects metacognition and conceptual understanding in the context of small group and whole class settings in middle school science. Overall results show that: CRS-enhanced pedagogy is a more beneficial instructional method for concept review and reinforcement compared with traditional teaching methods; SEMLI_S and Bloom’s taxonomy results were similar for lower Bloom’s taxonomy levels, however traditional teaching method results were higher when more challenging concepts are introduced; learning can be enhanced if SEMLI_S dimensions are utilized prior to Bloom’s taxonomy; and that following up use of SEMLI_S dimensions with Bloom’s taxonomy instruction provides the most effective teaching practices.

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Investigating Factors Underlying Undergraduate Physics Students' Attitudes and Beliefs about Physics through a Revalidation of CLASS (2014)

The Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS) has been widely used to measure students’ attitudes and beliefs about learning physics. This usage is paired with the assumption that the eight factors determined by the developers underlie students’ attitudes and beliefs about physics in all populations. Confirmatory factor analysis did not support the existence of these eight factors amongst students enrolled in introductory physics courses at a large research university in Western Canada. Thus, to understand the factors that underlie students’ attitudes and beliefs about physics as conveyed by the CLASS data collected at the university, a revalidation procedure was undertaken. The investigation of underlying factors included performing and interpreting the results of exploratory factor analysis, confirmatory factor analysis, and reliability tests. Exploratory analysis of the survey data suggested five factors that underlie students’ responses to the survey items in an introductory physics course for engineering students. Analysis of data from the introductory physics courses for engineering students and a calculus-based physics courses for science students confirmed the existence of three of the five emergent factors. These three factors have been labelled ‘Awareness of Real World Connections’, ‘Self-Efficacy’, and ‘Constructive Connectivity’. This emergent model indicates strong patterns in students’ attitudes and beliefs about physics from the beginning of their undergraduate careers. Future research is needed to support the existence of these revalidated factors and the robustness of this model in multiple populations. The potential for a tool that can provide insight into students’ attitudes about physics, and how these attitudes are shaped, to shape undergraduate physics learning are significant.

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Measuring Students' Engagement and Learning during Problem-Solving in Introductory Genetics: The Effect of Problem-Solving and Self-Regulated Learning Prompts (2014)

Developing problem-solving skills is a major goal in most undergraduate science courses. However it is rarely taught and supported explicitly. As courses shift away from didactic formats towards more interactive, problem-based ones, students’ abilities to problem-solve become even more integral to their success. Unfortunately, many students entering these introductory science courses are new to and struggle with problem-solving, requiring support to develop these skills. One possible support is prompting students throughout the process of problem-solving, encouraging content understanding and broad-based problem-solving skill development. This research investigates the role of two types of prompting, exploring how they affect student engagement and learning during problem-solving. This study took place in an Introductory Genetics course, where students completed a scheduled weekly problem-based tutorial, containing a question set and quiz question. Tutorial sections were divided into one of three conditions, which included different combinations of prompts provided in addition to content-based questions. The first condition, Problem-Solving, encouraged positive problem-solving behaviours, such as stating known information and identifying relevant data, through answering content-related prompts. The second condition, Self-Regulated Learning, included the same positive problem-solving prompts, and also asked students to reflect on why the prompts assisted them in problem-solving. A Control condition received no prompts and only engaged in the domain-specific problem-solving activity. Responses to questions during and following the manipulation were coded on three scales – completion, correctness, and explanation – which represent three facets of engagement. Engagement Profiles were created to characterize student engagement throughout the question set. The three scales were used to explore the effect of condition, using the quiz question as a post-intervention measure of learning. Engagement Profile results demonstrated students engaged with the question set differently across conditions, but there were no significant differences on the quiz question responses on any of the scales. This study contributes to educational research by comparing two forms of problem-solving support, suggesting a method to categorize student engagement during problem-solving. It also demonstrates the importance of measuring process, in addition to learning outcomes, to identify behavioural changes; and proposes an application of self-regulated learning theory that is situated in context. Finally, course-specific recommendations were made.

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Exploring the Status of Science Outreach in Science Teaching (2012)

Despite the continued demonstration of the importance of science outreach programs to inspire student interest and motivation in science, my experience is that the science outreach programs are currently underutilized in schools. This is besides the fact that many stakeholders including students, teachers, parents, scientists, the community and society can potentially benefit from science outreach programs. With most studies focusing on assessing the impact of outreach on students, there remains a gap in research on the processes that are undertaken by teachers and outreach providers to create these opportunities. This mixed-methods study used scientist-in-residence outreach model, as reference because of its prominence in promoting science outreach in attempt to address this gap by investigating teachers’ science outreach practices in schools to better understand the decisions they make about the place or status of science outreach programs, in their teaching. The study objectives were to (1) investigate the science outreach practices of science teachers, focusing on how outreach is integrated into curricular and instructional practices; (2) explore how teachers and outreach providers implement various science outreach models, including any potential challenges to this; (3) propose a model that better utilizes the efforts of both these stakeholders, teachers and outreach providers, with the aim of improved communication, that both teachers and outreach providers can use to inspire student interest and motivation in science.This study took a mixed methods approach, using a quantitative survey-questionnaire and qualitative interviews to elicit information on the practices of both elementary and secondary teachers regarding various forms of science outreach. Interviews occur with teachers, scientists, and other members of non-profit organizations coordinating various science outreach programs. Organizations that use the scientists-in-residence outreach model were of particular interest. Analysis of the data corpus revealed engagement, access, costs and comfort with science as the challenges for implementing outreach programs. Moreover, attitude, delivery and use of a facilitator were determined as ways to overcome these challenges. Based on these insights an emergent model is proposed to assist both teachers and outreach providers in inspiring student interest and motivation in science through outreach programs.

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Considering the student perspective: factors that undergraduates perceive as influential to their academic performances in science (2010)

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, AUCC, (2007) and the Global Science Forum (OECD, 2008) indicated that in the next decade or so, the wave of baby boomer retirements and the increasing demand for a knowledge-based population would fuel a greater demand for individuals with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. With this increasing demand for individuals with STEM degrees in Canada, it is more important than ever for universities to focus on enhancing students’ academic experiences (AUCC, 2007). Administrators within the Faculty of Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC) were concerned with improving the success of their students and were eager to understand what factors students perceived as influential to their academic performance. This concern fostered the orchestration of this mixed method study with data being collected via a survey (roughly 500 respondents), 24 one-on-one interviews and a four-person focus group discussion. The quantitative and qualitative data were analyzed to determine the factors that students perceived as most important to influencing their performance in science and why these factors were perceived as important. The data was also analyzed for gender differences. Students identified several academic, social and personal factors as influential but the most important factors were related to: the role of the instructor, assessment methods, study skills and habits, community, and the involvement of others. In comparison to males, females placed more emphasis on the approachability of their instructors, assessment methods, study skills and habits, the involvement of others and commuting. Based on the results of this study, recommendations were provided for administrators, faculty, and students on how they could positively affect the academic performance of undergraduates in science programs at UBC.

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News Releases

This list shows a selection of news releases by UBC Media Relations over the last 5 years.

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