Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Implementing Comprehensive Reform of Introductory Physics at a Primarily Undergraduate Institution: A Longitudinal Case Study

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Implementing Comprehensive Reform of Introductory Physics at a Primarily Undergraduate Institution: A Longitudinal Case Study

Article excerpt

Implementing an education research-based curricular reform holds the promise of improved student learning outcomes (McDermott & Redish, 1999). Those implementing a reform may expect improved outcomes shortly after the implementation but become discouraged when improvements fail to materialize (Henderson, 2005), not realizing such implementations are an iterative process (Cummings, Marx, Thornton, & Kuhl, 1999b; Kohl & Kuo, 2012). Chronicled here is a study of the efforts of the Ithaca College physics faculty at implementing a Studio Physics/ SCALE-UP (student-centered activities for large enrollment-university programs) model of teaching physics for introductory physics courses (Beichner, 2008; Beichner et al., 2007; Cummings, 2008).

During spring 2004, the physics faculty at Ithaca College decided to implement the SCALE-UP model during a 5-year assessment and planning process. This decision significantly impacted not only all of their introductory physics courses, but also all physics faculty and many faculty and programs in other areas of natural science as they moved their courses out of shared lecture spaces and into the new, dedicated SCALE-UP-style teaching and learning environment. The Studio Physics model integrates separate lecture, laboratory, and recitation sessions into a 2-hourlong, 3-days-per-week course mode where topics are presented using a blend of learning approaches. SCALE-UP expands this model to incorporate large enrollments, typically 100 or more students. The integration of lecture, laboratory, and recitation can lead to increased student learning (Beichner et al., 1999; Burrowes & Nazario, 2008; Gottfried et al., 2007). Our research is interested in understanding such an implementation at a predominantly undergraduate institution and the expansion of the model of instruction to physics and astronomy courses for nonscience or engineering majors.

During academic year 2006-2007, the physics faculty moved the majority of their introductory courses (for both physics majors and nonmajors) into the new classroom, leaving one section of general education astronomy and one section of algebra-based introductory physics in traditional lecture halls to serve as control groups for a study funded by the National Science Foundation (Kregenow, Rogers, & Constas, 2010) with a broader, multicourse case study research design of which only one aspect is reported on here. The Force Concept Inventory (FCI; Hestenes, Wells, & Swackhamer, 1992) was the major conceptual learning instrument used as a pre/postcourse test in the introductory physics course during years 2005-2012. Figure 1 presents the average normalized change (Marx & Cummings, 2007) on the FCI for each year of the study. The number of students (N) presented are those students who agreed to participate through written informed consent forms (Brogt, Dokter, & Antonellis, 2007; Brogt, Dokter, Antonellis, & Buxner, 2007; Brogt, Foster, Dokter, Buxner, & Antonellis, 2008) and who had valid pre/postcourse FCI test scores. The number of participants represents 80% or more of the total course enrollment.

The decision to move all introductory courses at once was primarily logistical and somewhat political; the college and the School of Humanities and Sciences had just granted significant resources to implement the plan, which included relinquishing highly sought-after lecture hall space for the use of other departments. Thus we learned through discussions with the Ithaca College physics faculty, and we report here, not only lessons in implementation of new teaching methods, but also that such an implementation involves much more than building a high technology room and adopting new methods from education research. In particular we found that the effects of reform are not immediate, even if all the right pieces seem to be in place to the implementors. We also found that the time frame from proposal to seeing significant changes/ results (in the Ithaca College case, 4 years) may exceed the tenure of some individuals originally involved in the effort, particularly college administration and part-time faculty. …

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