All of the faculty in the Department of Physics are dedicated to best practices in teaching. Each course receives a detailed biannual review, with the objective of improving its content and effectiveness. Beyond this, however, a number of faculty are developing new strategies to help our students to learn, and are carrying out assessment of these strategies as research projects in education. Many of these projects have attracted national attention as examples of high-quality teaching.
The department has been using an adaptation of the Studio Physics model since the spring of 1997, under the guidance of Tom Furtak. This started with pilot sections of introductory mechanics. In 2001, we implemented full-scale Studio Physics in a purpose-built facility. In Studio, students spend the majority of their contact hours working in small groups to solve problems, perform experiments, and investigate physics phenomena. The Studio itself is decentralized, making the students the focus of the time, and not the instructor. Mines physics faculty, including Vince Kuo, Pat Kohl, and Todd Ruskell, conduct ongoing grant-supported studies of the effects of various pedagogical and curricular innovations in Studio.
Technology-Based Interactive Engagement
The ubiquitous clicker is, at heart, a tool for facilitating communication between students and faculty during classes, and for actively engaging the students. Physics has been using clickers in its introductory sequence for than a decade, with demonstrated improvements in student conceptual understanding. More recently, faculty such as Lincoln Carr have begun using clickers in upper-division courses, rigorously comparing the effects of these devices to other pedagogical approaches. Frank Kowalski has led a significant undertaking to implement and study the use of tablet PCs in upper-division physics courses, representing the next level of interactivity via technology. This has included the development of InkSurvey, a freely-available software tool for facilitating two-way real-time communication via tablets. To find out more about Physics’ use of tablet PCs and InkSurvey, visit the website of the Technology in the Classroom Committee.
While Mines has no formal Physics Education Research group, there have in the past few years been a variety of studies and projects as the opportunities presented themselves. These have included (but are not limited to) studies of gender gaps in both introductory and upper-division physics courses, experiments on different methods for improving performance on conceptual surveys, and development of unconventional assessments such as measures of critical thinking ability and creativity.