Year of Publication

2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Mathematics

First Advisor

Dr. David C. Royster

Abstract

It is well documented that undergraduate students struggle with the more formal and abstract concepts of vector space theory in a first course on linear algebra. Some of these students continue on to classes in abstract algebra, where they learn about algebraic structures such as groups. It is clear to the seasoned mathematician that vector spaces are in fact groups, and so linear transformations are group homomorphisms with extra restrictions. This study explores the question of whether or not students see this connection as well. In addition, I probe the ways in which students’ stated understandings are the same or different across contexts, and how these differences may help or hinder connection making across domains. Students’ understandings are also briefly compared to those of mathematics professors in order to highlight similarities and discrepancies between reality and idealistic expectations.

The data for this study primarily comes from clinical interviews with ten undergraduates and three professors. The clinical interviews contained multiple card sorts in which students expressed the connections they saw within and across the domains of linear algebra and abstract algebra, with an emphasis specifically on linear transformations and group homomorphisms. Qualitative data was analyzed using abductive reasoning through multiple rounds of coding and generating themes.

Overall, I found that students ranged from having very few connections, to beginning to form connections once placed in the interview setting, to already having a well-integrated morphism schema across domains. A considerable portion of this paper explores the many and varied ways in which students succeeded and failed in making mathematically correct connections, using the language of research on analogical reasoning to frame the discussion. Of particular interest were the ways in which isomorphisms did or did not play a role in understanding both morphisms, how students did not regularly connect the concepts of matrices and linear transformations, and how vector spaces were not fully aligned with groups as algebraic structures.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/etd.2019.285

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