red Supported Site Virginia Tech: Course Reform


First year:

  • We have successfully initiated the SCALE-UP intro physics section for physics majors, with measured improvement over traditional lecture sections on the Force Concept Inventory.
  • We have successfully initiated an enhanced Seminar for Physics Majors, obtaining internal funding for the current year (and next year) to cover a graduate Teaching Assistantship, and field trips to physics facilities.
  • We have successfully developed the Physics Teaching and Learning course as a Special Study course, enrolling PhysTEC students, graduate teaching assistants, and other interested students. Various guest speakers from other departments have participated (including a professor of Theatre Arts, the Director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, speaking on the psychology of learning, and the director of the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research).
  • We have successfully initiated the Enhanced Physics Outreach course providing PhysTEC students with interaction with high school teachers on lesson planning.
  • We have successfully integrated PhysTEC students into the EDCI/ME 4454 Engineering Leadership and Management course which provides students with the early teaching experience of leading and mentoring teams of high school students in developing a robot for regional competitions.
  • A panel discussion by students in the Physics Teaching and Learning course, for physics faculty (at the Faculty Teaching Brown Bag Lunch) was well attended and with enthusiastic responses from the faculty. The result is a change in the department's thinking about physics teaching as a high school career for students. Faculty also think more about their own teaching.
  • We established a new course, PHYS 2404 Physics Outreach, an outgrowth of the long standing independent study course in our outreach program.


  • The challenge of creating and reforming these courses was met, but sustaining those changes is important.


  • We will be submitting course proposals to formalize the Special Study Physics Teaching and Learning course and the Special Study Enhanced Physics Outreach course, making them courses listed in the catalog and giving long-term viability.

Lessons Learned

  • Course creation and reform is best linked to a new program, such as PhysTEC.
  • A TIR was especially important to the creation and development of a Teaching and Learning course.

PHYS 2305-2306 Foundations of Physics I

  • Calculus-based two-semester introductory physics sequence for physics majors and engineers.
  • Before PhysTEC these courses were taught using a number of traditional large lecture sections.
  • Now, there is one section for physics majors taught using a SCALE-UP approach, in a specifically designed and remodeled SCALE-UP classroom.
  • Even in the lecture-based sections, instructors are using more student-centered learning activities (i.e., Peer Instruction).

PHYS 2325-2326 Seminar for Physics Majors

  • Two-semester sequence for freshman and transfer physics majors.
  • Before PhysTEC these courses concentrated on providing additional material on calculus and physics related to the course work in PHYS 2305-2306. In addition there was some introduction to the research done in the department.
  • Now, the approach is to provide, in addition, a First Year Experience for physics students which aims to sustain not only their undergraduate physics studies, but discuss in more detail their career options, including teaching as a career. There are activities related to group work and "teacher-student" interactions among the students.

PHYS 4984 Special Study: Physics Teaching and Learning

  • Created specifically as part of the PhysTEC program.
  • Designed to give students interested in teaching some background in the theory and practice of teaching.
  • Includes guest presentations on the psychology of learning, acting, and education research.
  • We are including Learning Assistants in this course.

PHYS 4984 Special Study: Enhanced Physics Outreach

  • Created specifically as part of the PhysTEC program.
  • Designed to give student interested in teaching experience interacting with high school teachers in preparing lesson plays and demonstrations for physics.
  • Grew out of the current Physics Outreach program which allows students to visit schools and give physics demonstrations.

ECDI/ME 4454 Engineering Leadership and Management

  • Course was designed for Mechanical Engineering students.
  • Enables students to interact with, lead, and mentor high school students as part of a robot design and construction project, leading to entry of the robot in regional competitions
  • The course prerequisites were changed to allow for PhysTEC students to take the course.