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Identity | Zahra Hazari

Zahra Hazari's research focuses on reforming physics learning environments in an effort to improve critical educational outcomes for under-represented groups in physics, especially women. In particular, her work centers on physics identity development, often through a recognition of belonging to the physics community, and the development of agency in physics (i.e. empowerment to take intentional actions). You can watch this short video or download the full interview transcript below.

"Identity has to do with how people recognize themselves, fundamentally, but that is mitigated by how they are recognized by others as well as their own interests."

Zahra Hazari, Associate Professor of Science Education, Florida International University
Zahra Hazari

2017 Interview Highlights:

How do you define identity?
The way in which we’ve conceptualized identity is really how students identify themselves with respect to a particular discipline. I’m not talking about identity in general, I’m talking about disciplinary identity, how they identify with respect to a certain discipline. If a student says something like, “Oh, yeah, I see myself as a biology person, but I’m really not a physics person, but I think I am a math person,” that’s the kind of language we look for, as well as other ways in which they articulate how they see themselves and how they identify themselves with respect to a discipline.

How do you think identity matters for science learning or for science communication?
The value of any model or theoretical framework is that it’s predictive of what students are going to do and the choices they’re going to make. One of the reasons we focus on identity is that pragmatic approach, because we found that our measures for identity are so strongly predictive of people’s choices.

In science communication, there’s tons of work showing that a lot of identity development happens through social interaction. In our conceptualization, identity has to do with how people recognize themselves fundamentally, but that is mitigated by how they are recognized by others, as well as their own interests.

Science communication is really very fundamental to identity development. When people have access to interesting work in science, when they’re reading about topics related to their work being presented in a science forum, and it’s accessible to them, that can really play into the interest dimension.

When many people think about identity or work in identity, they only look at the social performance aspect, or they only look at the recognition aspect of it. We take a much more holistic approach. We ask, how does one recognize oneself as being part of this area or identifying with this area or this discipline? That doesn’t just have to do with recognition. It also has to do with their interests. We’ve interviewed students who say things like, “I’m not really recognized in this space,” or they don’t really talk about recognition events, but they’re so deeply interested in it, and a lot of that comes out of informal science experiences. When we think about sources of self-recognition, things that lead to students seeing themselves in this way, recognition by others is really important, but interest is really important also. The feeling that they can do it is also important.

How do you measure identity?
We take into account three constructs. First, there’s the recognition they receive from others and themselves, how they see themselves and how they're seen by others. We also look at their interest. Finally, there’s their performance competence beliefs: do they feel capable of doing physics and understanding physics? I’m talking about physics identity because I live in that space.

However, my caveat is that this is not crosscutting for all people at all times. This is for students in a heterogeneous environment, a physics environment.

Is it possible to create tools to measure identity that practitioners or evaluators could easily use?
Yes, and we are doing that for high school physics teachers. We have a new National Science Foundation grant to do this and to really start getting high school physics teachers to implement certain activities, implement certain interventions, and take certain approaches throughout the year that help students see themselves as physics people. We’re also going to assess whether it’s working or not.

How do interest, motivation, and attitudes connect with identity?
As I mentioned before, interest is part of our holistic conceptualization of identity. It is part of how somebody starts to see themselves.

In terms of motivation, it is a broad umbrella for a lot of things. Motivation is the drive to action. So our conceptualization of motivation in identity is that if you start to build an identity or develop an identity in the space, it will drive you to persist, to choose the next class, or to think harder about it when you’re engaging in learning, either in a classroom or outside a classroom. Motivation will engage you to pick up and read a book that you wouldn’t have normally picked up and read. If you see yourself as a physics person, you will pick up that book and read it even if it’s not required, it will drive you to action. It will motivate you to action. In that sense, the concepts are related.

Download full interview

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