red Supported Site University of Colorado at Boulder: Research Studies


  • Colorado PhysTEC has supported a variety of different research studies related to the program goals. These have resulted in over a dozen refereed research papers and nearly three dozen talks to date. (See Section 8 below)
  • Current (ongoing) studies include:
    • Clicker Study: a 3500 student; 70 course; 12 department study of the use of personal response systems in transforming classes
    • Faculty Change: an ongoing study documents how faculty perceive and enact educational practices that are aligned with PER and Colorado PhysTEC goals.
    • TIR research project on whether students learn better using bulbs to indicate current and voltage or using multimeters and resistors to measure current and voltage.
    • Differential impact of instructional practices by gender and why.
    • Detailed studies of the Colorado Learning Assistants. How do these experiences impact LAs – do they understand the content better, teaching practice better, and what are the programs that influence their preparation?


  • Limited resources constrain how many studies can be conducted.
  • The studies of significant import (how/ why do faculty buy in; what changes for the Learning Assistants) are challenging experimental questions and required extensive mixed methodological (quantitative and qualitative) analyses.

Sustainability/Institutional Buy-In

  • Being a research university, these studies are a core of faculty practice and identity. That is, it is unlikely that an innovation can be sustained at CU-physics (or any R1 institution) without a research component.
  • Large scale funding (NSF/FIPSE etc) may be on the rise and support these studies which appear to be of broad interest.

Lessons Learned

  • Research is a critical component of making a successful and sustainable program at CU.
  • Research allows us to understand what is happening and hopefully a bit about why, which, in turn, will allow us to transfer, idealize and share core elements with other programs
  • Research brings this activity into the core identity of the institution and insures its sustainability (and promotion of the PIs).

Activity Summary

With support of PhysTEC, Colorado researchers have:

  • Demonstrated that transformations in the introductory physics courses have improved student mastery by a factor of as much as three times the learning gains posted for students in non-transformed classes. (See Finkelstein & Pollock, Phys Rev 2005 below).
  • Described the critical features of the Colorado Learning Assistant Model and demonstrated its positive impacts on introductory courses, content mastery of future teachers, and the beliefs of faculty in the physics department (See Otero et al, Science 2006, below).
  • Demonstrated that while beneficial for students in classes, these interactive engagement techniques do not necessarily reduce the gender gap, as had been previously thought (see Pollock et al, Phys Rev 2007)
  • Documented that it is possible to hand-off these educational reforms to other faculty (See Pollock, PERC 2006)
  • Documented that we can increase the number and quality preparation of future physics teachers (See Otero, Science 2006 and Finkelstein et al APS News 2006; Otero APS News 2006).
  • Developed new models of teaching with analogy and demonstrated their effectiveness for teaching introductory physics(see Podolefsky and Finkelstein, Phys Rev 2006 and 2007).
  • Demonstrated that the representations we use are critical in teaching introductory physics (See Kohl and Finkelstein Phys Rev 2005, 2006, 2007).
  • Documented that students do not read the introductory textbook in the manner it was assigned and that this is independent of the achievement level of the students enrolled (See Podolefksy and Finkelstein, Phys Tch 2006)
  • Demonstrated that computer simulations can be remarkably productive at promoting student learning in introductory physics, and certainly no worse than anything else we're doing (See Keller PERC 2006; Finkelstein Phys Rev 2005)