Supported Site Towson University (Secondary): Course Reform

Successes

  • We restructured the physics secondary education track to include UTeach courses and maintain a credit count of less than 126.
  • A significant number of LAs and physics faculty worked together to implement active learning activities (interactive lecture demonstrations, lecture tutorials, discussion-based clicker questions, outside tutoring, etc.) in algebra- and calculus-based physics courses.

Challenges

  • Most PAGS faculty planned and implemented course reforms on their own, without communicating with other faculty. In the future we need to plan and support small-group faculty collaboration, which is an important factor in effecting long-term pedagogical change.
  • It can be extremely difficult to move faculty and learning assistants away from focusing on student weaknesses or shortcomings - which is a mentality that tends to be neither useful nor productive. Likewise, physics faculty and learning assistants often focus on their students' mathematical understanding of physics rather than their deeper conceptual understanding.
  • It is important for faculty attempting course reform to understand the goals and philosophies that underlie the reform efforts, yet helping faculty develop these understandings is not an easy task.
  • Due to their full workloads, faculty are frequently unable to invest as much time as they would like into an LA program.

Sustainability

  • The Dean and PAGS department chair continue to support the PhysTEC project by providing matching money for the undergraduate physics learning assistants. The learning assistant program may also become integrated into either UTeach or the Center for STEM Education.
  • Historically, the PAGS department has valued good teaching and has sponsored various teaching reforms. This environment will be conducive to establishing and maintaining pedagogical reforms in the future.

Lessons Learned

  • To adequately support faculty-driven course reform supported by learning assistants, it is important to schedule: (1) small-group faculty meetings centered on curricular improvement, (2) opportunities for the participating faculty members to observe and discuss each other's classrooms and use of LAs, and (3) classroom visitations by the project directors and TIRs.

Activities

  • The TIR helped LAs to plan and implement classroom demonstrations with interactive questioning. Over thirty interactive demonstrations were performed per year.

Calculus-Based General Physics I and II (PHYS 241 and 242)

  • Learning assistants were used in PHYS 241 and PHYS 242 to facilitate active learning exercises in lecture, assist with lab activities, and provide out-of-class tutoring.

Algebra-Based General Physics I and II (PHYS 211 and PHYS 212)

  • Learning assistants were used in PHYS 211 and PHYS 212 to facilitate peer discussions of clicker questions, provide brief interactive lecture demonstrations, assist with lab activities, and provide out-of-class tutoring.