Reforming Physics Education

To advance its efforts to improve the introductory physics courses at Georgia Tech, the School of Physics is launching the Physics Education Research (PER) colloquium series, beginning on Jan. 9, 2017.

“The goal is to provide a summary of the current state-of-the-art, based on experiences at peer institutions that carried out successful reforms of their introductory physics courses,” says Assistant Professor Tamara Bogdanovic, who is organizing the talks.

Speakers are physicists who were closely involved in implementing online portals, redesigned laboratory and recitation sessions, and new teaching methods at their host institutions, Bogdanovic says.

First up is Kenneth Heller, a professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy in the University of Minnesota. In his talk on Jan. 9, “Preparing Physics Graduate Students for Their Future,” he will describe a program that fully integrates teaching assistantship (TA) into physics graduate education. 

In the notes about his talk, Heller writes: “The good news is that people with physics graduate degrees are in demand.  Starting salaries are high and unemployment is low. However, studies show the skills traditionally associated with an academic research program are necessary but not sufficient for employment as it exists now and in their future. 

“Our graduate students need education in and practice of a well-documented set of so-called ‘soft skills.’ The challenge is to provide both the research skills and the soft skills for all students in the graduate program without adding significant burdens on them, the faculty, or the department.”

Integrating TA into graduate education, Heller writes, “results in graduate students that are more satisfied with their TA experience, are better prepared to function in research groups, provide a better classroom experience for their undergraduate students, and have the soft skills necessary for employment.”

Other speakers in the series are the following:

Jan. 18, 2017, Heather J. Lewandowski, an associate professor of physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder; an AMO (atomic, molecular, and optical) physicist; and developer of teaching methods for upper division physics.

Jan. 30, 2017, Mats A. Selen, a professor of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), a high-energy physicist, and a chief architect of introductory physics reform at UIUC.

April, 3, 2017, David E. Pritchard, a professor of physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an AMO physicist, and a leading innovator in online introductory physics instruction.