This project supports a prototype offering of a new program for developing faculty expertise in teaching upper-level undergraduate physics laboratories. The ALPhA Immersions Program provides in-depth faculty-staff professional development, in which instructors spend three full days apprenticing with expert mentors, learning a single instructional-physics experiment in order to teach it confidently themselves.

Six geographically diverse Immersion workshop sites are being offered in the summer of 2011, with 18 different experiments and 12 mentors. Approximately 58 faculty and staff are participating in the program. These instructors often need to teach laboratory experiments that are outside of their own fields of expertise.

Intellectual Merit: Participants in the Immersions explore all aspects of a single advanced undergraduate laboratory experiment in a setting similar to their students' experience. The participants may be learning an experiment that is far from their field of specialization, but after the Immersion, they can teach that experiment at their own institution. This allows an expanded pool of students to experience contemporary instructional labs that do much more than repeat classic experiments, introducing students to modern instrumentation and increasing the breadth of experience for students who will be engaged in independent research.

Broader Impacts: This program's focus is on developing faculty and instructional staff expertise in physics departments across the entire country. It does so in a very direct way, bringing small groups together to learn contemporary instructional labs that they want to implement at their own institutions, but do not have the expertise to develop on their own. Moreover, at each immersion site the collected cadre engages in broader discussions of how these labs can be integrated into their curricula, which is a conversation explicitly aimed at eliciting discussion of curricular tactics, strategies, and models. Reports on these discussions are being shared at national meetings. The impact of this program is widespread. In addition, some financial support is available to encourage participation by instructors at institutions serving under-represented populations.

Project Report

This grant supported the Advanced Laboratory Physics Association's (ALPhA) Laboratory Immersions program. In this program, faculty and staff who teach non-introductory undergraduate physics courses spend 2-3 days learning a new laboratory experiment. The goal is for these faculty members to be able to return to their home institutions and be able to teach the new experiment themselves. In turn, students at these institutions will now be able to learn modern skills and techniques to better prepare them for their future careers. The faculty and staff who participate in the Immersion program are likely to be instructors for nearly all of the physics majors at their own institutions. It is this multiplying effect that gives this program a broad impact on physics education in the U.S. - a small number of instructors can impact a significant fraction of the physics majors. Over the years supported by this grant (2011-13), 111 faculty and staff participated. This amounts to 103 different institutions impacted by this program in just those three years. At least 61 of those faculty have already implemented some part of the experiment at their own institution, with another 33 planning to complete the implementation in the near future. Over the three years of this grant, at least 436 undergraduate physics majors around the nation have been impacted, and that number will grow. (For comparison, 6778 undergraduates earned physics degrees throughout the U.S. in 2012.)

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Duncan E. McBride
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American Association of Physics Teachers
College Park
United States
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