This project supports two synergistic programs aimed at improving one aspect of STEM education: beyond-first-year (BFY) laboratory instruction of undergraduates in physics departments in the US. The first program is a 2012 Conference on Laboratory Instruction Beyond the First Year of College (the BFY Conference), aimed at broad curricular impact. The second program is the ALPhA Immersions Program, focused on faculty-staff development, with sites distributed around the country. Each initiative is in response to and plans to feed back into national surveys.
The BFY Conference initiates these programs by offering opportunities for hands-on exposure to a broad smÃ¶rgÃ¥sbord of contemporary instructional labs appropriate to Modern Physics, Electronics, Optics, Advanced Labs, as well as key instructional labs in Statistical Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, Quantum Mechanics, etc. These focused-topic portions of the program are designed to lead into discussion of supporting curricular models that improve the degree of cohesion and integration of the 4-year laboratory curriculum.
Some of the most productive exchanges about modernizing curricular content, structure, and pedagogy emerge when the conversation is focused at the level of discussing particular courses or even particular experiments. So, each site of the ALPhA Immersions Program is offering focused faculty-staff development coupled with larger curricular discussions, and initial results demonstrate that this program will be an extraordinarily effective agent for curricular change. Each participant is immersed for three days in the details of a single, key instructional BFY laboratory topic of their choice. A month before arrival, each participant will be given preparatory reading and assignments, and after the program they will have access to (and be prompted for) follow-up support. Experts mentor the participants throughout the process, ensuring that participants can confidently update their curricula.
Intellectual Merit: By disseminating 4-year models of instruction regarding interconnected topics such as single-photon interference, indistinguishability, entanglement, quantum correlations, and Bell's inequalities, the intellectual landscape of undergraduate physics laboratories is being dramatically modernized. In addition to disseminating contemporary curricular models, pedagogies, curricular content, and experimental techniques, this project promotes shared adoption of assessment tools, particularly emphasizing ones dealing with student conceptual understanding of quantum mechanics. All material is made accessible through the AAPT/ComPADRE archival website for laboratory materials. This project thereby addresses the relative stagnation of laboratory curricula that our survey data suggest exists in many programs throughout the nation.
Broader Impact: An initial national survey regarding BFY laboratory instruction has been conducted, highlighting clear, common shortcomings among undergraduate physics programs. It makes a strong case that shared opportunities for faculty, staff, and curricular development in this area are especially important, particularly for the surprisingly large number of institutions where the relevant instructors must develop this portion of the curriculum in relative isolation. Critically, the initial survey results make clear that impact can be achieved by improving the professional qualifications and effectiveness of an identifiable and relatively small cohort of persons who collectively play a crucial role in the experimental instruction of nearly all students who major or minor in physics. The two programs described here can collectively impact a significant number of these instructors, and special efforts are being made to include those serving historically underrepresented groups.