Physics Education Research/Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

I have described my work in pedagogy and curricular development at time as pedagogical theory and at other times as curricular engineering. But always my work stems from the fundamental question - How can I help my students learn more effectively?

My research questions arise from my interactions with students in and out of the classroom and so have covered the entire undergraduate curriculum, the undergraduate research experience, the community of the department, and diversity and inclusiveness in the larger physics community.

My research has therefore straddled traditional (!) Physics Education Research (PER) and Astronomy Education Research (AER) but the broader Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) as well.

SOTL graphic

An example of previous work was the development of an introductory laboratory environment that prepared students for genuine research activity. The lab course, A Short Course in Experimental Philosophy (1,2) provided an environment that allowed students to become more adept at asking questions, creating and modifying an extended investigation, working in groups, and to see themselves as effective and valued members of that community of scholars. (This work was recognized by the American Association of Medical Colleges in 2009 with the MedEdPortal for Undergraduate Science Pilot Program Award.)

Another example of my work in laboratory pedagogy was the lab experience I developed for the intro astronomy course, Projects in Astrophysics: An Open Invitation to Scientific Study. The environment was designed to introduce non-science majors to the scientific inquiry used in astronomy and astrophysics by using discovery-based labs, case-studies and journal articles to make observations and then to construct and modify theories. In addition, I have developed and taught an inquiry-based astronomy course for teachers.

A current project that is an outcome of that earlier work is the application of play theory to course design (3). Four of the key perspectives that I have borrowed from the play theory paradigm are uncovering what we do in physics as play, the role of social engagement, the need for continual assessment, and the concept of rhythm in the teaching/learning process.

Several years ago four students(PER Group 2012/13) and I began an exploration of the pedagogical properties of textbooks (4, 5). Practical outcomes of the project (which focused on a text (6) for our algebra based, pre-med course) consists of writing a problem guide to supplement the textbook, illustrations to complement the textbook, and the development of a taxonomy to better understand the role of illustrations in textbooks.

A second major focus of my current work is the revision of the course on introductory physics for the life sciences (IPLS). For a number of years the physics community has been dissatisfied with the IPLS course but revising it has been persistently thwarted by our poor understanding of all of the factors involved in the teaching/learning environment of both students and faculty. But PER and BER are combing to start to ask more well-defined questions and there is a significant groundswell of resource development.

I am currently a co-PI on a grant that allowed the IPLS community to hold a Conference on Introductory Physics for the Life Sciences in March, 2014.

My particular focus has been on developing communal-based learning environments that promote the growth of critical thinking and social interactions that form the core of the 21st century skill set of STEM professional (including physicians and teachers) and of the general voter (1,7).

My interest in faculty development has led me to develop and lead workshops on

PER/SOTL Group (2012/13)

PER/SOTL Group (2013/14)

Selected Papers/Talks

Last updated 9/06/2013