The language barrier: Using concept inventories to teach science to first-year university students


  • Jurgen Schulte School of Physics and Advanced Materials University of Technology Sydney Broadway NSW 2007
  • Neela Griffiths Academic Language and Learning Group Institute of Interactive Media and Learning University of Technology Sydney Broadway NSW 2007


The effective use of language in science is a perennial topic in science education. In studying science students are confronted not only with the scientific concepts of the disciplinary area but also with its discipline specific language. In English, this challenge is compounded by the overlap in meaning between discipline specific terminology and everyday language. Science concept testing tools, which have been developed to deal with these issues, are widely used for testing understanding of science concepts. However, Science educators are facing new challenges with the increasing diversity of the student cohort accessing tertiary education. These students’ educational, cultural and linguistic backgrounds combined with their unfamiliarity with the academic discourse of their discipline may be an obstacle to their smooth transition. In the past, the specially written Concept Inventories supported lecturers and students in this transition but these inventories were not designed for the student cohorts of the twenty-first century. This paper reports on our study of one of the more proven concept testing tools ‘The Force Concept Inventory’ (physics) and its application in large first-year classes with non-traditional students.