There has been considerable research on how students gain conceptual knowledge in introductory physics courses, including some work in first-year lab courses. Systematic studies and research-based transformations of upper-division lab courses were, until recently, nearly non-existent. Although very little physics education research (PER) has been done on these lab courses, the skills they aim to teach are cited by faculty as critical for students' success in graduate school or other research-related endeavors.

The project team's recent work on a small project has begun to address this area of undergraduate education. The outcomes of that work include research-based materials, assessments, curricula, teaching guides, and a transformation process. One major theme has been using modeling to engage students in quantitative thinking around sophisticated physics ideas in the University of Colorado's Advanced Lab class.

This project has three interconnected components that build on initial work. The first component applies and expands the research on integrating modeling in upper-division lab courses to: finish transforming Colorado's Advanced Lab, partner with manufacturers of educational equipment, develop a new optics course for a graduate bridging program along with colleagues at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and run a workshop on integrating modeling into labs at variety of institutions. A second component uses the previously developed lab course transformation process to completely transform Colorado's upper-division electronics lab and run an Immersion experience for instructors at other institutions to incorporate a modeling pedagogical approach into their local labs. A third component creates research-based materials for single-photon lab experiments and studies how different learning environments impact students' conceptual understanding and perspectives on quantum mechanics. The goal is to have the largest possible impact on the experimental education of undergraduate physics majors.

Intellectual Merit: This project uses a course transformation methodology that is strongly grounded in research. It advances PER by significantly extending the limited base of research on how students acquire experimental research skills, as well as on how best to achieve wide implementation of research-based curricula at the upper-division level. The project team brings a successful history of course transformation, assessment and evaluation of laboratory courses, and research on sustainable and scalable models of reform.

Broader Impacts: This project directly and positively impacts the education of hundreds of physics majors across the nation and internationally. Students can develop scientific process skills that better prepare them for undergraduate and graduate research experiences or research careers. This project also provides resources for faculty to appropriately adapt material to their local environments, improving their own pedagogical expertise. Thus, the materials will be of direct value, relevance and likely significant interest to colleges and universities in the nation that offer undergraduate physics programs. In addition, the techniques may influence advanced lab and research preparation in other disciplines. Ultimately, this project can significantly contribute to the national mission to develop outstanding, creative, and productive scientists and engineers.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
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R. Hovis
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University of Colorado at Boulder
United States
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