Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Notes from a physics education meeting (UKPSF: K1, K2, K5)

Just before Christmas, I attended a meeting in London about Physics
Education Research (PER). The meeting was organized by the PhysicsEducation group of the IOP.  The meeting was really about people
trying to start to do research into Physics education, rather than to
disseminate the results for people trying to teach.  Do I intend to do
Physics Education research at the moment? Well no, but I still enjoyed
the meeting. Part of the reason I am not interested is that I need to
do more background reading on research methods.

During the questions and the few lectures, there were some discussions
about traditional physics research versus physics education research.
There was very little jargon from the PGCAP / HEA communities. I don't
think I remember anyone talking too much about "reflection" and peer
learning, and the other silver bullets loved by the HEA people.

The starting talk was a discussion of what PER is? The first thing
suggested was to write a question. The example given was whether there are
gender differences in problems solving. However, there was some
discussion about whether the first thing would be to write down
the motivation for the question.

There was a lot of discussion about trying to understand what the
students were thinking There was some discussion of research methodologies. Do we need to use
techniques from social sciences? 

In a comment, someone noted that Nottingham Universities once had a
time with no exams in the 4th year. One guy claimed the students were
much better as PhD students.

Many people have used open book exams. There was a feeling that the
students found them harder than normal exams.

There was an idea called triangulation. 
This is where more than one technique is used to assess a method.

Also Ross mentioned a technique where students articulated what they
did. Someone noted that this may actually change what may be measured.

One person noted that, in the past when students worked on
Fermi problems, the students would actually try to do the
back of the envelope calculations. However, students will
now try to estimate problems, such as "how many piano tuners
are needed in Sydney?", by firing up google. (Actually this is what
I do as well). As one person pointed out, this is actually a
legitimate technique. A textbook was recommended
College Physics by Eugena Ethina. However, this turned out to be very
expensive at 160 pounds.

Some PER journals:

European Journal Of Physics
American Journal of Physics
Physical Review Special edition

There will be a new journal for physics education. The journal is
revived  from an old HEA journal.  New directions will be
restarted. It will be a positive experience, where the referees help
the authors improve the paper, rather than just reject.

What I learned from the meeting was that there are social sciences techniques for evaluating teaching techniques. I have purchased a couple of books, so I can learn about them.