A research-validated approach to transforming upper-division physics courses.
Steve Pollock, University
of Colorado Boulder
At most universities, including the University of Colorado,
upper-division physics courses are taught using a traditional
lecture approach that does not make use of many of the
instructional techniques that have been found to improve
student learning at the introductory level. We are
transforming upper-division courses (E&M, quantum, and
Classical Mechanics) using principles of active engagement and
learning theory, guided by the results of observations,
interviews, and analysis of student work at CU and elsewhere.
I will outline these reforms including consensus learning
goals, clicker questions, tutorials, modified homeworks, and
more, as an example of what a transformed upper-division
course can look like, and as a tool to offer insights into
student difficulties in advanced undergraduate topics.
We have examined the effectiveness of these reforms relative
to traditional courses, based on grades, interviews, and
attitudinal and conceptual surveys. Our results suggest that
it is valuable to further investigate how physics is taught at
the upper-division, and how education research may be applied
in this context.