Michael Eads

Associate Professor
Department of Physics
College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Course(s) Targeted by this Innovation

PHYS 210: General Physics I

Purpose and Impact

PHYS 210 (General Physics I) is a 4-credit hour introductory physics course. This is a lab course in which students meet for three hours of “lecture” time as well as a three-hour lab section each week. It is a general-education course, as well as a required course for a variety of STEM majors, including Biology, Engineering Technology, and many health science majors. Many of these majors also require the next course in the sequence - PHYS 211 (General Physics II). Enrollment in this course is typically 50-100 students. Student demographics in the PHYS 210/211 are much more diverse than in the calculus-based physics sequence (PHYS 253/273), largely due to the majors of the students who take this course. PHYS 210 (and 211) have much higher proportion of women (around 50%, compared to about 20% for the calculus-based physics course), as well as a higher proportion of students from other under-represented groups.

The physics department has been administering pre/post concept inventories in this course at the beginning and end of each semester since 2015. Increases in scores from the beginning to the end of the semester in PHYS 210 are consistent with values expected from “traditional” instruction in introductory physics courses at many different institutions. It has been well-established in the Physics Education Research community that significant learning gains are expected from the inclusion of “active learning” pedagogical techniques (Von Korff, et al, Am. J. Phys. 84, 12 (2016)). The importance of active learning is well established in introductory STEM courses (Freeman, et al., PNAS 111, 8410-8415 (2014)) and has been shown to help reduce equity gaps (Theobald, et al, PNAS 117, 6476-6483 (2019)).

Description of Innovation

There are two main areas of this course that are in desperate need of improvement.

  • The “lecture” portion of the course has historically relied on very traditional lecture-type pedagogies and needs the implementation of active learning and high student engagement activities.
  • The “lab” portion of the course currently utilizes very traditional (and somewhat “cook book”) style labs. The lab activities need to be revamped and improved to focus more on constructing physics knowledge, communicating results, and engaging in science practices (J. Kozmiski et al, “AAPT Lab Guidelines”, 2014).

It is well-established that active learning pedagogies in introductory STEM courses improve student outcomes. While I have not yet determined the exact active learning pedagogies that I will target in this effort, it would ideally follow a flipped-classroom model I used in PHYS 253 in which students watched short videos before class and completed assessments to check their understanding, then spent the bulk of class time on group problem solving. This may include Learning Assistants, student response systems, and other group and partner activities.

Improvements to the PHYS 210 labs will focus on redesigning the current lab activities to better align with AAPT lab guidelines.

Contact Us

Center for Innovative
Teaching and Learning

Phone: 815-753-0595
Email: citl@niu.edu

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