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The goal of this research project is to better understand what students’ expressions of confusion actually convey to instructors about their understanding and engagement with the material. Physics instructors typically try to avoid confusing their students. However, the truism underlying this approach, "confusion is bad," has been challenged by educators dating as far back as Socrates, who asked students to question assumptions and wrestle with ideas. This begs the question: how should instructors interpret student expressions of confusion? We evaluate performance on reading exercises while simultaneously measuring students’ self-assessment of their confusion over the material. We investigate the relationship between confusion and performance, confidence in reasoning, pre-course self-efficacy and several other measurable characteristics of student engagement. We find that student expressions of confusion are negatively related to initial performance, confidence in reasoning and self-efficacy, but positively related to final performance when all factors are considered simultaneously.

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