Electric field lines: The implications of students' interpretation on their understanding of the concept of electric field and of the superposition principle
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A common way to represent an electric field in a course on electricity and magnetism is with the electric field line diagram. Some literature claims that students have difficulties understanding this representation and relating it to their understanding of the electric field concept. We conducted a study at the introductory level that aims to understand the effect of students’ interpretation of electric field line diagrams on their application of the superposition principle for the electric field. The results give some evidence that an incorrect interpretation of the electric field line diagram may hinder the understanding of the superposition principle. Students who understand a vector representation of a field at a position tend to answer a superposition principle question better. We question whether teaching the electric field line representation is productive at the introductory level, and we discuss the need to have a representation that helps students reach a better understanding of the electric field concept and of the superposition principle.
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