Within physics and other fields, computation is an increasingly important element in solving problems and conducting research. Much remains to be learned about effectively integrating computational approaches into the undergraduate curriculum. This comprehensive, collaborative research project, leading to the design and validation of a survey instrument will elucidate the extent, character, and attitudes towards the use of computation in undergraduate physics courses. A knowledge base of the computational component of undergraduate physics courses is useful for educational research, programmatic development, and effective employment of undergraduate physics majors. The survey will be the first comprehensive and rigorously statistical national assessment of the position of computation in undergraduate physics courses.

The project will be conducted over a period of two years involving a variety of stakeholders. A workshop, crucial to the validity of the survey questionnaire and the usefulness of its results, will be convened to complete the process of probing the thinking and experiences of stakeholders in advance of designing the survey. Workshop participants will represent several interest groups: faculty and administrators from different educational institution types and enrollment profiles; representatives of businesses, government agencies, and organizations that employ physics bachelor degree recipients; a specialist in computational physics education research; and students drawn from the current cohort of physics majors. Participants will set requirements for the design of a survey of computational methods and their use in undergraduate physics courses, and articulate the desired outcomes from analysis of the results of the survey. Attitudes as well as practices in relation to computation will be surveyed. An external evaluator, with expertise in formative and summative evaluation, and significant experience in assessing changes in the undergraduate physics curriculum will use mixed methods to translate the issues and language treated in the workshop into a survey and questionnaire that measures current computational practices in physics courses and the climate for change in the physics departments that teach them. The PI and the evaluator will consult to gain insights in learning to understand how the design and operation of the Workshop succeeded in eliciting the knowledge needed for constructing the survey and how such advisory workshops can be improved.

Results will increase the knowledge base needed to replicate in physics education what the scientific and engineering worlds have been doing for decades-gradually integrating computational modeling into the standard toolbox for professional practice.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE)
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R. Corby Hovis
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American Association of Physics Teachers
College Park
United States
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