Seeking New Models for Education Programs at APS Meetings
Kenneth S. Krane, Chair, APS Forum on Education
When I was a graduate student in the 1960s, I regularly attended the
annual general meeting of the APS, which was held jointly with the
AAPT. Many APS members also attended their divisional meetings,
but the general meeting was an annual event that provided a focus for
the national physics community. I recall that preparation of papers
for the general meeting engendered a great sense of urgency throughout
my department as the deadline approached.
Along with many of my fellow graduate students, I often spent time
at the AAPT part of the meeting. Listening to talks about physics education
or browsing through displays of textbooks and instructional equipment
enhanced my desire to become an academic physicist, and the lesson
I gleaned from the joint APS/AAPT meeting was that teaching and research
should demand equal emphasis in an academic career.
Sadly, we now have neither a general annual meeting nor a joint annual
meeting with AAPT. Graduate students and postdocs who attend APS meetings
have thus lost the opportunities to learn about physics teaching by
attending AAPT sessions at joint meetings. Similar opportunities for
new or experienced faculty to hone their teaching skills have also
been lost. AAPT meetings offer a rich array of invited and contributed
sessions on topics that are of great usefulness to college and university
instructors. However, of the approximately 5000 physics faculty members
at U.S. research universities, only about 10% are AAPT members. Thus
few research university faculty have the opportunity to enhance their
teaching or share teaching ideas with others by attending sessions
at AAPT meetings.
One of the missions of the Forum on Education is to sponsor education
sessions at APS meetings. At the present time the Forum is allocated
two sessions of invited papers at the March meeting and four sessions
of invited papers at the April meeting. Often these sessions are co-sponsored
with other units, which allows us to extend the number of sessions
in which we participate. (According to the rules for allocating sessions
at meetings, if we co-sponsor a session with another unit we are "charged" only
one-half session against our allocation.) In recent years these sessions
have spanned a wide array of topics: for example, preparing future
university faculty, teaching thermal and statistical physics, finding
and holding a faculty job, improving physics graduate programs, communicating
physics to the general public, and enhancing the preparation of K-12
teachers. These programs have generally been lively and well attended.
Unfortunately, these sessions are not available to physicists who attend
divisional meetings other than the March and April meetings.
The Executive Committee seeks the advice of Forum members on the question
of how we can enhance our efforts to provide sessions on physics education
at APS meetings. Should we endeavor to include invited sessions on
education topics at other divisional meetings? At present the six education
sessions at the March and April meetings are organized by the FEd Program
Chair (who is the chair-elect of our Executive Committee) with the
help of members of the Executive Committee who may take responsibility
for individual sessions. Clearly a significantly greater role in arranging
sessions will require additional organizers and thus an expanded Program
Committee that goes beyond the Executive Committee membership.
What should be the relationship between the Forum and the education
committees of the various APS divisions? Should the FEd continue to
take responsibility for organizing education sessions at divisional
meetings, or should we instead provide suggestions and session templates
for the divisional education committees? Should these programs take
the form of parallel sessions or pre-meeting workshops? Similar questions
arise with respect to education sessions at sectional meetings.
In the past six years more than 300 recently hired physics and astronomy
faculty have attended the New Faculty Workshops, currently sponsored
jointly by AAPT, APS, and AAS. Participants have offered enthusiastic
testimony about the positive impacts the Workshops have had on their
teaching. How should we spread these lessons to the several hundred
new faculty hires each year, most of whom will not have the opportunity
to attend one of these workshops? Again, what is the proper role of
the APS divisions and sections in developing targeted teaching enhancement
programs for new faculty (as well as for graduate students and postdocs
who are contemplating faculty careers)?
I would like to encourage FEd members to respond to me with their
views on these questions. I will share your comments with the members
of the Executive Committee before we begin planning our annual programs
at our fall meeting.
Ken Krane is Professor of Physics at Oregon State University.
Having previously held many positions in the APS and AAPT, he is
currently the Chair of the Forum on Education.