Supported Site Boston University: Course Reform

Successes

  • We established a pilot studio course for one section of ~36 students (running concurrently with multiple sections of an algebra-based, introductory physics, large-lecture-centered course), for which the TIR assisted in course development as well as implementation. The pilot was expanded to two sections of 30-35 students in Spring 2013.
  • Following on the pilot studio project, we did a large-scale studio implementation during the 2013-14 academic year. Boston University built an interactive studio classroom, with seating for 81 students (9 tables of 9 students each), in the physics building, and we used it for three large sections (out of five) for the PY105 class (intro. physics for life sciences) in Fall 2013, and three large sections (out of five) in PY106 in Spring 2014. We were also comparing outcomes for the studio students and the approximately 40% of the class who took these courses in a more traditional lecture/lab/recitation mode. In addition, one section of the calculus-based introductory physics class for scientists and engineers was taught in the studio classroom in both semesters.
  • Eric Mazur of Harvard, who developed Peer Instruction, came to Boston University to give a departmental colloquium in January, titled "The Scientific Approach to Teaching: Research as a Basis for Course Design".
  • We further expanded the Learning Assistant (LA) program in the Department of Physics, in non-major courses as well as courses taken by physics majors, which has positively impacted faculty attitudes toward reformed teaching and also assisted in the transformation of discussion sections into student-centered, active-learning environments.
  • We continued using the pre-lecture videos and checkpoint quizzes (in the Just-in-Time-Teaching model) that we introduced in 2011-12 in all of our large, introductory physics classes, to help students better engage with the material and to help instructors become more aware of student preconceptions and difficulties.
  • In 2011, we introduced a section of the STEM pedagogy course (SED SC521) specifically for Physics Learning Assistants, refining and altering material each semester to better reflect needs of the different physics courses utilizing LAs.
  • In 2011-12, we established a pre-practicum course for STEM majors (SED CT375), with major emphasis on background reading in pedagogy and preparation of student lesson plans. The TIR offered many curriculum pieces directly related to the classroom experience.

Challenges

  • The utilization of Learning Assistants is not uniform by all professors across all courses, limiting their effectiveness as well as their teaching experiences, although this has improved in the second year of the LA program.
  • Our reform efforts are proceeding more quickly in the introductory physics courses for non-majors than they are in the courses for majors.
  • Currently, the LAs get more training in pedagogy than do the graduate teaching assistants, and it would be good to have more consistency in the training for these two groups.

Sustainability

  • It is important for the TIR and the LA Coordinator (Jariwala) to attend weekly planning meetings for all courses with LAs and to approach professors individually about the effective use of LAs in a reformed teaching environment.
  • With the support of the Chair and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Physics, we established Steering Committees for all the large-lecture introductory classes, with the goal of building consensus for adopting new teaching innovations and for support in managing the different "technological parts" and the associated grades. One of us (Jariwala) is Chair of the Steering Committee for the large calculus-based sequence, and Goldberg and Duffy are members of the committee for the algebra-based sequence.
  • Duffy was granted full-semester course development assignment in lieu of a regular teaching assignment in Fall 2012, to design a new, comprehensive studio curriculum and test components in the pilot studio course.
  • During 2013-14, members of the PhysTEC team submitted six NSF grant proposals related to undergraduate teaching or the recruitment of teachers.

Lessons Learned

  • For all new physics and education classes, and the studio sections, greater effort is required in reaching out to faculty, individually and in meetings, to build support for these classes.

PY105/106 and 211/212 (multiple sections, multiple semesters)

  • Before the PhysTEC project, our large-lecture, introductory physics classes did not have any Learning Assistants and only partial attempts at reforming traditional, Teaching Fellow-led discussion sections. The integration of LAs has led to a more student-centered environment in discussions, as well as more awareness of reformed pedagogy among faculty members.

PY105/106 (studio sections)

  • Before the PhysTEC project, this course did not exist. The large-scale studio implementation has gone well for the students, for the Learning Assistants who are assigned to the studio, and for the graduate student teaching assistants, who get excellent experience teaching in a highly interactive environment.

SC521 A1 (STEM pedagogy course for physics LAs)

  • Before the PhysTEC project, this course existed only for Chemistry LAs. Revised and expanded to reflect different physics courses taught by different LAs.

CT375 (Pre-practicum course for STEM majors)

  • Before the PhysTEC project, this course did not exist. Created syllabus based on research of similar recruitment-style education courses such as the UTeach Step 1 course.