Working Group Report: A Physics Education Research (PER) Textbook

Report Written by Sam McKagan

Participants: Jennifer Blue, Andrew Boudreaux, Dedra Demaree, Laird Kramer, Trevor Smith, Padraic Springuel, Sam McKagan, Keron Subero, John Thompson, Jessica Watkins, Saalih Allie, Alan VanHeuvelen and Lillian McDermott. Eugenia Etkina and Karen Cummings, Co-chairs.

Our assignment: As the field of Physics Education Research has grown, we have come to a place where we can at least outline topics and content for a textbook that might be used in a graduate level PER course. How do we create a viable and meaningful textbook that is of broad use? What should such a text contain? What audience will use it? Participants in this working group addressed these and other questions.

Audience: Our group identified several possible audiences for a PER textbook, including but not necessarily limited to the following:

  1. Graduate students beginning a Ph.D. in PER
  2. Teaching Assistants working in reformed courses
  3. High school physics or physical science teachers who were trained in traditional programs and are now working on an education-oriented Master’s Degree
  4. Undergraduate and/or graduate students who want an introduction to the field (perhaps this could be combined with #1 above)
  5. PER users (high school teachers and college faculty) who want to learn more

Various members of the group had personal interest in each of these audiences. We discussed whether one book would be appropriate for all, or whether each audience should have its own book. There was consensus that each audience has different needs, but disagreement over how to best cater to these needs. Some members felt that each audience should have an entirely separate book, while other members felt that there should be one book with different access points or sections directed toward different audiences. Some members thought that some of these audiences needed a book more than others, but there was not consensus on which audiences were most important to address. In order to make progress, we agreed to focus the working group on determining content appropriate for graduate students beginning a Ph.D. in PER.

Format: Because our field is changing rapidly and there are many different audiences with different needs for accessing information about PER, there was consensus that a print textbook would not be adequate. We agreed that the best format would be a web-based wiki that could easily be updated and edited by different members of the PER community, but that would be easily converted to pdf so that paper copies could be made. The group felt that an accompanying workbook would be an advantage, allowing students to engage in directed data analysis, interpretation of student responses, coding and other important skill development activities.

Content: In our discussion of content we again focused on graduate students beginning a Ph.D. in PER with the understanding that the content would probably need to be altered for different audiences. We discussed several possible titles and found that the one that best captured our aims was Introduction to PER: Asking and answering questions in the physics classroom. We came up with the following list of possible chapters:

  1. Introduction/Overview -What is PER? Compare and contrast PER with thoughtful, reflective teaching.
  2. The history of PER.
  3. What do we know about how student learn? Seminal works in PER, important aspects of cognitive science, brain research, educational psychology and so on.
  4. Research perspectives including example and/or important theoretical frameworks.
  5. Qualitative and quantitative methods used in PER including example assessment instruments. (This would be more than just one chapter).
  6. What are answerable questions? Developing a research question, examples and ranges of research projects.
  7. Developing curriculum based on research.
  8. PER in the context of other STEM-specific educational research fields. Also PER’s connection to other fields including communication and institutional change. Political and implementation issues for PER researchers and users.
  9. What are the big questions now? Why are some questions hard to answer?

Process: The working group also agreed that there should be an editorial board for the book. The editorial board should be supervised and selected by PERLOC –the Physics Education Research Leadership Organizing Council of the PER Topical Group of the American Association of Physics Teachers. PERLOC (via a volunteer who is interested in taking the lead on this project) should seek funding for stipends for the editorial board. It was noted that Sam McKagan has already acquired partial funding for the PER User’s Guide, a project along these lines focused on the PER user audience listed above. If another volunteer wanted to take the lead, this project could be extended to include the other audiences as well.

Sam McKagan is a physics education research consultant in Seattle and is the editor of the PER User's Guide. She received her doctorate from the University of Washington for research on Bose Einstein Condensation and did postdoctoral work on quantum mechanics education research at the University of Colorado.

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