Combining Machine Learning and Qualitative Methods to Elaborate Students’ Ideas About the Generality of their Model-Based Explanations

Joshua M. Rosenberg, Christina Krist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Assessing students’ participation in science practices presents several challenges, especially when aiming to differentiate meaningful (vs. rote) forms of participation. In this study, we sought to use machine learning (ML) for a novel purpose in science assessment: developing a construct map for students’ consideration of generality, a key epistemic understanding that undergirds meaningful participation in knowledge-building practices. We report on our efforts to assess the nature of 845 students’ ideas about the generality of their model-based explanations through the combination of an embedded written assessment and a novel data analytic approach that combines unsupervised and supervised machine learning methods and human-driven, interpretive coding. We demonstrate how unsupervised machine learning methods, when coupled with qualitative, interpretive coding, were used to revise our construct map for generality in a way that allowed for a more nuanced evaluation that was closely tied to empirical patterns in the data. We also explored the application of the construct map as a framework for coding used as a part of supervised machine learning methods, finding that it demonstrates some viability for use in future analyses. We discuss implications for the assessment of students’ meaningful participation in science practices in terms of their considerations of generality, the role of unsupervised methods in science assessment, and combining machine learning and human-driven approach for understanding students’ complex involvement in science practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-267
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Science Education and Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Assessment
  • Epistemology
  • Generality
  • Grounded theory
  • Machine learning
  • Middle school
  • Quantitative
  • Scientific practices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Combining Machine Learning and Qualitative Methods to Elaborate Students’ Ideas About the Generality of their Model-Based Explanations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this