Challenges in assessing college students' conception of duality: the case of infinity

Grace Olutayo Babarinsa-Ochiedike, University of Texas at El Paso


Interpreting students’ views of infinity posits a challenge for researchers due to the dynamic nature of the conception. There is diversity and variation among students’ process-object perceptions. The fluctuations between students’ views however reveal an undeveloped duality conception. This study examined college students’ conception of duality in understanding and representing infinity with the intent to design strategies that could guide researchers in categorizing students’ views of infinity into different levels. ^ Data for the study were collected from N=238 college students enrolled in Calculus sequence courses (Pre-Calculus, Calculus I through Calculus III) at one of the southwestern universities in the U.S. using self-report questionnaires and semi-structured individual task-based interviews. Data was triangulated using multiple measures analyzed by three independent experts using self-designed coding sheets to assess students’ externalization of the duality conception of infinity. ^ Results of this study reveal that college students’ experiences in traditional Calculus sequence courses are not supportive of the development of duality conception. On the contrary, it strengthens the singularity perspective on fundamental ideas of mathematics such as infinity. The study also found that coding and assessing college students’ conception of duality is a challenging and complex process due to the dynamic nature of the conception that is task-dependent and context-dependent. ^ Practical significance of the study is that it helps to recognize misconceptions and starts addressing them so students will have a more comprehensive view of fundamental mathematical ideas as they progress through the Calculus coursework sequence. The developed duality concept development framework called Action-Process-Object-Duality (APOD) adapted from the APOS theory could guide educators and researchers as they engage in assessing students’ conception of duality. The results of this study could serve as a facilitating instrument to further analyze cognitive obstacles in college students’ understanding of the infinity concept.^

Subject Area

Mathematics education|Mathematics|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Babarinsa-Ochiedike, Grace Olutayo, "Challenges in assessing college students' conception of duality: the case of infinity" (2015). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3708533.