Student Achievement Assessment Committee
Physics and Astronomy
- demonstrate a thorough conceptual understanding of the basic fields of physics;
- use mathematics to describe and manipulate fundamental physical constructs and to solve problems;
- use computational methods to solve physics problems;
- use basic experimental apparatus common to the study of physical phenomena;
- communicate scientific ideas effectively, both orally and in writing.
This year we developed additional strategies for assessing these learning goals, focusing on the goal of a thorough conceptual understanding of the basic fields of physics, especially Newtonian mechanics and electricity and magnetism. We have assessed the goal of conceptual understanding of Newtonian mechanics using the nationally recognized Force Concept Inventory (FCI) test, as we have for many years. This test is administered as a pre-test and a post-test in Physics 201, our largest service course, plus Physics 211, which includes physics majors. This year we piloted a similar assessment tool for electricity and magnetism, the Conceptual Survey in Electricity and Magnetism (CSEM). We administered the CSEM as a pretest and posttest in Physics 212. These first results are generally satisfying, with students showing a 98% increase from pretest to posttest. Because the CSEM is fairly new, results from across the country have not yet been reported in the literature. However, the student gains are comparable to very good FCI results. We plan to continue the use of the CSEM and will compare to national results as they become available. Meanwhile, the results suggest particular areas of difficulty for students, which can be given more attention next year.
At the intermediate undergraduate level, we continued reevaluating our curriculum using trends in the field, curricula of peer institutions, content on the physics GRE exam, and feedback from alumni. In response the results, we completed changes to our curriculum to give additional emphasis to the areas of thermodynamics and optics. We created a new required course (making another an elective) on these topics.
We also continued reviewing student work, including written and oral final reports, in capstone research projects, to evaluate the overall integration of learning outcomes. More students this year presented their project results as part of our Department seminar series, giving us more data regarding oral presentation. The results have suggested that the limited time, typically 1-2 credit hours in one semester, make it difficult for students to advance as far as we would like, especially in the areas of problem solving, use of experimental apparatus, and communication. In response, this year we completed minor changes to the curriculum, to expand the required capstone experience from one semester to one year. We are also providing additional encouragement, and financial support, for students to present their work at local, regional, and national forums.