Relevant Education Articles

This list provides references and links to supporting Physics Education Research articles from CU Boulder, relevant to advanced undergraduate electromagnetism and upper-division course transformation. Click on individual entries in the table below to go directly to the listing; click on the title in each reference to either download a PDF version of the article, or be directed to the journal archive page. You can also download a PDF version of this list.

1. Assessment in Upper-Division Physics
2. Conceptual Understanding in E&M
3. CUE – Electrostatics Assessment
4. Developing Faculty Consensus Learning Goals
5. Difficulties with Ampere’s Law
6. Difficulties with Gauss’ Law
7. E&M Math Difficulties
8. Effect of Tutorials
9. Peer Instruction in Upper-Division Physics
10. SEI Model for Course Transformation
11. Sustaining Course Transformation
12. Transforming Electrostatics Courses
13. Transforming Electrodynamics Courses
14. Developing Tutorials

1. Assessment in Upper-Division Physics

"Multiple Roles of Assessment In Upper-Division Physics Course Reforms"
 Steven Pollock, Rachel Pepper, Stephanie Chasteen and Katherine Perkins
 PERC Proceedings 2011, AIP Press (2011)
Abstract: The University of Colorado at Boulder has been involved in a systematic program of upper-division undergraduate course transformations. The role of assessment has been critical at multiple, interconnected scales: (1) formative evaluation focused on the course itself in the design phase; (2) formative assessment focused on students in the instructional phase and (3) summative assessment to determine student performance and the success of course design. We summarize the role and nature of assessments at each of these levels. At the design scale, investigative measures include observations and surveys of students and student work. In the classroom, assessments to determine and address student difficulties include clicker questions and tutorials. At the summative scale, assessments include faculty interviews and course and tutorial-scale posttests. We discuss examples, affordances, outcomes, and challenges associated with these different layers of assessments at the upper-division level.

2. Conceptual Understanding in E&M

"Longitudinal study of student conceptual understanding in electricity and magnetism"
 Steven J. Pollock
 PhysRev: ST Phys Ed. Rsrch 5, 020110 (2009)
Abstract: We have investigated the long-term effect of student-centered instruction at the freshman level on juniors’ performance on a conceptual survey of Electricity and Magnetism (E&M). We measured student performance on a research-based conceptual instrument—the Brief Electricity & Magnetism Assessment (BEMA)–over a period of 8 semesters (2004–2007). Concurrently, we introduced the University of Washington’s Tutorials in Introductory Physics as part of our standard freshman curriculum. Freshmen took the BEMA before and after this Tutorial-based introductory course, and juniors took it after completion of their traditional junior-level E&M I and E&M II courses. We find that, on average, individual BEMA scores do not change significantly after completion of the introductory course—neither from the freshman to the junior year, nor from upperdivision E&M I to E&M II. However, we find that juniors who had completed a non-Tutorial freshman course scored significantly lower on the (post-upper-division) BEMA than those who had completed the reformed freshman course—indicating a long-term positive impact of freshman Tutorials on conceptual understanding.

3. CUE – Electrostatics Assessment

"Tapping into Juniors’ Understanding of E&M: The Colorado Upper-Division Electrostatics (CUE) Diagnostic"
 Stephanie V. Chasteen and Steven J. Pollock
 PERC Proceedings 2009, AIP Press (2009)
Abstract: We have investigated the long-term effect of student-centered instruction at the freshman level on juniors’ performance on a conceptual survey of Electricity and Magnetism (E&M). We measured student performance on a research-based conceptual instrument—the Brief Electricity & Magnetism Assessment (BEMA)–over a period of 8 semesters (2004–2007). Concurrently, we introduced the University of Washington’s Tutorials in Introductory Physics as part of our standard freshman curriculum. Freshmen took the BEMA before and after this Tutorial-based introductory course, and juniors took it after completion of their traditional junior-level E&M I and E&M II courses. We find that, on average, individual BEMA scores do not change significantly after completion of the introductory course—neither from the freshman to the junior year, nor from upperdivision E&M I to E&M II. However, we find that juniors who had completed a non-Tutorial freshman course scored significantly lower on the (post-upper-division) BEMA than those who had completed the reformed freshman course—indicating a long-term positive impact of freshman Tutorials on conceptual understanding.

4. Developing Faculty Consensus Learning Goals

"Facilitating Faculty Conversations: Development of Consensus Learning Goals"
 Rachel E. Pepper, Stephanie V. Chasteen, Steven J. Pollock and Katherine K. Perkins
 PERC Proceedings 2011, AIP Press (2011)
Abstract: Our upper-division course reform efforts at the University of Colorado start with expert input from non-PER faculty, and these conversations with faculty enrich and guide our course reforms. We have discovered additional benefits of these conversations, such as the fact that they serve as a forum for discussions of pedagogy and PER. However, it is not always obvious – to the faculty or to the PER researchers – what approach will lead to successful meetings. During the process of several course transformations we have met with diverse faculty to generate consensus learning goals and course assessments. We describe the general approach used to structure and facilitate these meetings, and include details on what these meetings entailed, how we achieved broad participation and productive conversations, as well as potential pitfalls to avoid.

5. Difficulties with Ampere’s Law

"Upper-division students' difficulties with Ampere's law"
 Colin S. Wallace and Stephanie V. Chasteen
 PhysRev: ST Phys Ed. Rsrch 6, 020115 (2010)
Abstract: This study presents and interprets some conceptual difficulties junior-level physics students experience with Ampère’s law. We present both quantitative data, based on students’ written responses to conceptual questions, and qualitative data, based on interviews of students solving Ampère’s law problems. We find that some students struggle to connect the current enclosed by an Ampèrian loop to the properties of the magnetic field while some students do not use information about the magnetic field to help them solve Ampère’s law problems. In this paper, we show how these observations may be interpreted as evidence that some students do not see the integral in Ampère’s law as representing a sum and that some students do not use accessible information about the magnetic field as they attempt to solve Ampère’s law problems. This work extends previous studies into students’ difficulties with Ampère’s law and provides possible guidance for instruction.

6. Difficulties with Gauss’ Law

"Our best juniors still struggle with Gauss’s Law: Characterizing their difficulties"
 Rachel E. Pepper, Stephanie V. Chasteen, Steven J. Pollock & Katherine K. Perkins
 PERC Proceedings 2010, AIP Press (2010)
Abstract: We discuss student conceptual difficulties with Gauss’s law observed in an upper-division Electricity and Magnetism (E&M) course. Difficulties at this level have been described in previous work; we present further quantitative and qualitative evidence that upper-division students still struggle with Gauss’s law. This evidence is drawn from analysis of upper-division E&M conceptual post-tests, traditional exams, and formal student interviews. Examples of student difficulties include difficulty with the inverse nature of the problem, difficulty articulating complete symmetry arguments, and trouble recognizing that in situations without sufficient symmetry it is impossible (rather than “difficult”) to calculate the electric field using Gauss’s law. One possible explanation for some of these conceptual difficulties is that even students at the upper level may struggle to connect mathematical expressions to physical meanings.

7. E&M Math Difficulties

"Observations on student difficulties with mathematics in upper-division electricity and magnetism"
 Rachel E. Pepper, Stephanie V. Chasteen, Steven J. Pollock, and Katherine K. Perkins
 PhysRev: ST Phys Ed. Rsrch 8, 010111 (2012)
Abstract: We discuss common difficulties in upper-division electricity and magnetism (E&M) in the areas of Gauss’s law, vector calculus, and electric potential using both quantitative and qualitative evidence. We also show that many of these topical difficulties may be tied to student difficulties with mathematics. At the junior level, some students struggle to combine mathematical calculations and physics ideas, to account for the underlying spatial situation when doing a mathematical calculation, and to access appropriate mathematical tools. We discuss the implications of our findings for E&M instruction at the junior level.

8. Effect of Tutorials

"Teasing Out the Effect of Tutorials via Multiple Regression"
 Stephanie V. Chasteen
 PERC Proceedings 2011, AIP Press (2011)
Abstract: We transformed an upper-division physics course using a variety of elements, including homework help sessions, tutorials, clicker questions with peer instruction, and explicit learning goals. Overall, the course transformations improved student learning, as measured by our conceptual assessment. Since these transformations were multi-faceted, we would like to understand the impact of individual course elements. Attendance at tutorials and homework help sessions was optional, and occurred outside the class environment. In order to identify the impact of these optional out-of-class sessions, given self-selection effects in student attendance, we performed a multiple regression analysis. Even when background variables are taken into account, tutorial attendance is positively correlated with student conceptual understanding of the material – though not with performance on course exams. Lecture attendance, which includes exposure to clicker questions and peer instruction, did not achieve the same impacts.

9. Peer Instruction in Upper-Division Physics

"The use of concept tests and peer instruction in upper-division physics"
 Steven J. Pollock, Stephanie V. Chasteen, Michael Dubson, Katherine K. Perkins
 PERC Proceedings 2010, AIP Press (2010)
Abstract: Many upper-division courses at the University of Colorado now regularly use peer instruction in the form of clicker questions during lectures. Particular attention has been paid to developing and implementing clicker questions in junior-level E&M and Quantum mechanics. These transformed classes largely follow traditional local norms of syllabus and content coverage, but are designed to address broader learning goals (e.g developing math-physics connections) that our faculty expect from physics majors in these courses. Concept-tests are designed to align with these goals, and have altered the dynamic of our classes. Coupled with other course transformations, we find measurable improvement in student performance on targeted conceptual post-tests. Here, we discuss classroom logistics of upper-division clickers, purposes of clicker questions, aspects of student engagement facilitated by concept-tests, and observations of and challenges to sustainability of this activity.

10. SEI Model for Course Transformation

"A Thoughtful Approach to Instruction: Course transformation for the rest of us"
 Stephanie V. Chasteen, Katherine K. Perkins, Paul D. Beale, Steven J. Pollock
 Journal of College Science Teaching 40, 70 (2011)
Abstract: Faculty often wish to devote time and resources to improve a course to be more in line with principles of how people learn but are not sure of the best path to follow. We present our tested approach to research-based course transformation, including development of learning goals, instructional materials based on student difficulties, and assessment to see whether the approach worked. This method of course transformation has measurably improved student learning in several courses, and we present one such course as a case study—an upperdivision physics course. We relied on various support personnel, including undergraduates, to help instigate and maintain the course transformations, and we describe the departmental and institutional factors that are important for successful transformation and sustainability. This model, and the lessons we have learned through its implementation, may serve as a guide for faculty interested in trying a new approach in their own courses.

11. Sustaining Course Transformation

"But Does It Last? Sustaining a Research-Based Curriculum in Upper-Division Electricity & Magnetism"
 Stephanie V. Chasteen, Rachel E. Pepper, Steven J. Pollock & Katherine K. Perkins
 PERC Proceedings 2011, AIP Press (2011)
Abstract: We report on the process and outcomes from a four-year, eight-semester project to develop, establish, and maintain a new course approach in junior-level electricity and magnetism (E&M). Almost all developed materials (i.e., clicker questions, tutorials, homework, and student difficulties) were used successfully by several subsequent instructors, indicating a high rate of sustainability over time and between instructors. We describe the factors related to successful transfer and to decisions not to adopt the materials, based on observations, instructor interviews, and student data.

12. Transforming Electrostatics Courses

"Transforming Upper-Division Electricity and Magnetism"
 Stephanie V. Chasteen and Steven J. Pollock
 PERC Proceedings 2008, AIP Press (2008)
Abstract: We transformed an upper-division electricity and magnetism course for physics and engineering majors using principles of active engagement and learning theory. The teaching practices and new curricular materials were guided by observations and interviews to identify common student difficulties. We established explicit learning goals for the course, created homeworks that addressed key aspects of those learning goals, offered interactive help room sessions, created and ran small-group tutorial sessions, and used interactive classroom techniques such as peer discussion and “clickers.” We find that students in the transformed course exhibit improved performance over the traditional course, as assessed by common exam questions and a newly developed conceptual post-test. These results suggest that it is valuable to further investigate how physics is taught at the upper-division, and how PER may be applied in this context.

13. Transforming Electrodynamics Courses

"Research-Based Course Materials and Assessments for Upper-Division Electrodynamics (E&M II)"
 Charles Baily, Michael Dubson and Steven J. Pollock
 PERC Proceedings 2012, AIP (2013)
Abstract: Favorable outcomes from ongoing research at the University of Colorado Boulder on student learning in junior-level electrostatics (E&M I) have led us to extend this work to upper-division electrodynamics (E&M II). We describe here our development of a set of research-based instructional materials designed to actively engage students during lecture (including clicker questions and other in-class activities); and an instrument for assessing whether our faculty-consensus learning goals are being met. We also discuss preliminary results from several recent implementations of our transformed curriculum, plans for the dissemination and further refinement of these materials, and offer some insights into student difficulties in advanced undergraduate electromagnetism.

14. Developing Tutorials

"Developing Tutorials for Advanced Physics Students: Processes and Lessons Learned"
 Charles Baily, Michael Dubson and Steven J. Pollock
 PERC Proceedings 2013, AIP (2014)
Abstract: When education researchers describe newly developed curricular materials, they typically concentrate on the research base behind their design, and the efficacy of the final products, but do not highlight the initial stages of creating the actual materials. With the aim of providing useful information for faculty engaged in similar projects, we describe here our development of a set of in-class tutorials for advanced undergraduate electrodynamics students, and discuss factors that influenced their initial design and refinement. Among the obstacles to be overcome was the investigation of student difficulties within the short time frame of our project, and devising ways for students to engage in meaningful activities on advanced-level topics within a single 50-minute class period. We argue for a process that leverages faculty experience and classroom observations, and present several guidelines for tutorial development and implementation in upper-division physics classrooms.