red Supported Site Ball State University: Course Reform


  • The TIRs assisted in the implementation of new licensure requirements of the Indiana Professional Standards Board (IPSB).
  • Some non-PhysTEC faculty have adopted interactive engagement techniques such as the Personal Response System (particularly in the conceptual and calculus-based physics courses)
  • The TIRs’ daily supervision of the teaching assistants fostered a sense of community and inspired the preservice teachers to use active learning strategies.


  • Changing the culture of a department and reforming courses is a long-term process; five years or longer may be required.
  • New teaching strategies are sometimes met with resistance if a department is alone in using new PER methods.
  • Young faculty may be hesitant to embrace reforms if such strategies negatively impact student evaluations. Other faculty may be reluctant to spend time on their teaching when the university reward system does not recognize the importance of instruction.
  • An aggressive faculty development program is necessary to bring a lasting positive change in a department.
  • Resources, such as classroom availability and numbers of students that need to be accommodated in a given section, may limit some active learning strategies.

Sustainability/Institutional Buy-In

  • When departments are required by university administrators to establish strategic plans that include goals, objectives, action plans, measures, and timelines to improve learning, sustainability will be encouraged and department buy-in will be guaranteed. The PhysTEC model of course reform has been a helpful tool in planning initiatives and assessing the learning that takes place in all programs and courses of the department.

Lessons Learned

  • Physics faculty will be open to reforming courses and doing things differently in the classroom and laboratories when provided with data that measurable improvements will occur when reforms are adopted. Therefore, assessment instruments agreed upon by the profession are vital in any reform effort.
  • In addition, the department may not have available certain expertise in some assessment techniques. Working with colleagues in Science Education and/or the College of Education is of great value in developing methods for assessment.

Activity Summary

  • Course reform was conducted in the department’s algebra-based course (two-semester) and the conceptual physics course (one semester) for Elementary Education majors. Here are the reforms:
    1. Students take part in more guided-inquiry and discovery-type activities
    2. Personal response systems are now used
    3. Conceptual knowledge is now emphasized
    4. A 1-hr course was introduced for students that did not take high school physics to help them to develop problem-solving skills
    5. Use of Interactive Lecture Demonstrations (ILDs) in the lecture.
  • In the algebra-based course that is taken by preservice middle-school and secondary life and earth-space science teaching majors, laboratory instruction was revised to include a greater emphasis on inquiry and technology.
  • The major revisions in the course for Elementary Education majors were the incorporation of inquiry activities into the daily classroom activities. In addition, each day the instructor provided students with in-class activities and simulations that were accessible from the web.
  • Due to an implementation of the state’s new licensing requirements set for by the Indiana Professional Standards Board (IPSB), all of Ball State’s teaching programs were revised to meet the new standards.
  • In 2007-2008, a new instructor taught the course for Elementary Education majors, and is planning further revisions in the course for next year.
  • The TIR interacts strongly with the Science Education faculty who teach the above-mentioned courses for teachers. Typically the TIR presents brief descriptions of the PhysTEC program and the critical need for physics teachers, helps with physics demonstrations, participates in laboratory activities, discusses pedagogical techniques, makes presentations on inquiry, and gives input regarding students' practice teaching experiences. The TIR also meets with individual students in these courses to discuss science teaching ideas or science teaching projects.
  • The TIRs joined Ball State’s Science Educators (housed in the Department of Biology) in developing new introductory courses and in revising the science methods courses for the Physics and Astronomy Department’s preservice students to reflect the new licensure requirements.
  • The TIR for 2006-2007 assisted physics faculty in developing class materials to increase conceptual learning for topics associated with the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) and Conceptual Survey in Electricity and Magnetism (CSEM).
  • Physical Science Concepts for Teachers (the introductory physics course designed primarily for students in elementary education programs.)
    Classroom activities in the Physical Science Concepts for Teachers course have been reformed to include daily web simulations and inquiry activities. During academic year 2004-2005, the PET curriculum was offered at Ball State (24 students in a studio/laboratory format) and it was compared to the current curriculum that is offered in a large classroom environment (72 students per course). Assessment data indicated that the two methods of instruction produced comparable results.
  • Science as Inquiry (a course for elementary education majors with the science concentration).
    • Another PhysTEC team member, Melissa Mitchell, Professor of Biology and science methods instructor, revised the course, “Science as Inquiry.” This science methods course is taken by elementary education majors who have chosen the science concentration as their area of specialization.
    • The revised science education methods courses draw heavily from the recommendations made in such science education reform documents as Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association's Framework for National Science Education Standards.
  • Three science education courses are provided for all middle school and secondary science teaching majors and they are taught by Science Education specialists.
    • One is a new course that serves as the introduction to all secondary science teaching programs.
    • The others are a two-semester sequence of courses for secondary science teachers on the philosophy, methodology, and issues specific to science teaching
  • The early self-identification of the students in the new course for science teachers as prospective science educators is important in creating and reinforcing a sense of community. As students become comfortable as members of the science education community, they are more likely to accept support and mentoring from others within this group during pre-service training, student teaching, the first years of teaching, and their professional careers.
  • To address the state’s new licensure program instituted in 2002, two new science courses were created, Basic Concepts in Science Education and Using Science Methods and Materials. The TIRs worked closely with the Science Educators when these courses were first introduced to include Physical Science content experiences.
  • Physics faculty held training sessions for graduate teaching assistants, and included in these sessions the basic ideas of PER and their application in a classroom and laboratory. This training was conducted at the beginning of the fall semester and continued on a weekly basis during group meetings. Student assistants observed that teaching was taken seriously by the faculty and that they were also an important part of the department’s teaching mission.
  • The revision of the laboratories in the introductory algebra-based physics course uses a guided-inquiry approach to student learning.
  • A new course was added to the department’s curriculum to assist those students taking the introductory algebra-based physics course by enhancing their problem-solving skills. The rationale for this course came from the analysis of data on students that had or had not taken high school physics.