Forum on Education of The American Physical Society
Summer 2004 Newsletter



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ComPADRE and the Tools for Sharing Teaching and Learning Resources

Bruce Mason, University of Oklahoma, ComPADRE Principal Investigator and AAPT Electronic Publications Editor and Warren Hein, Associate Executive Director, AAPT

Consider yourself in one of the following situations:

You must teach a junior level quantum mechanics course for the first time in many years.  You need new approaches to the topic, animations and simulations to help students develop an understanding of concepts, and research results that apply the material being studied.

You have a CCLI project for introductory electricity and magnetism that combines interactive labs and online exercises and discussion.  Initial assessments have been positive, and you want to deliver it to a wider audience for testing, feedback, and because it’s very good.

You are the outreach coordinator for a research center where your scientists and high school physics teachers created materials that bring research experiences into the classroom.  These work well locally and you wish to disseminate this material to a much wider audience.

In all these cases, you probably turn to experienced colleagues, to point you to places to find or distribute resources, and the web.  The ComPADRE project (Communities for Physics and Astronomy Digital Resources for Education), a collaboration of the AAPT, APS, AAS, and AIP/SPS, is designed to provide the resources, tools, and “space” to help meet these needs.

What is a digital library?

ComPADRE ( is a part of the NSF-DUE (Division of Undergraduate Education) National Science Digital Library (NSDL) program. 
Online at ]

This program supports the creation of collections for educational materials, services for users of these collections, research studying the collections, and the construction of a “Core” digital library that integrates all these efforts.  A problem with digital libraries is the many different concepts that users may have about them.  Although they vary quite a bit, digital libraries tend to have several characteristics in common.   They are online, providing wide access to resources; they are distributed with both local materials and links to materials across the web; they are actively organized and maintained to meet specific needs; and they are more than just lists of links, providing services and tools that help users be more productive.

ComPADRE is both distributed and centralized.  It is building multiple community-focused resource collections with the help of central support and services, analogous to the services provided by a professional society to publish diverse research journals. The focused ComPADRE collections address the needs of learning communities for quality resources selected and organized specifically for, and by, their members. These collections speak the users’ language. They contain, for example, interactive simulations, novel curricula, and education research for teachers and students of a specific course.  Building each of these collections from scratch would result in a great deal of repetition and waste. The ComPADRE central services streamlines and simplifies new collection creation by providing, out of the box, the information architecture, editorial processes, and user interface, communication, and organizational tools needed to make a collection run. 

A common question asked when ComPADRE is discussed is: “Why can’t I just use Google?”  ComPADRE does not replace Google, but provides a different sort of information.  The resources found on ComPADRE have been specifically selected for education, reviewed, and put into context of subject, user type, and use.  The experience of others, both editors and general users, adds value to the resources in ComPADRE.

ComPADRE Collections

There are currently five community collections and one central repository interface:

§   The Physical Sciences Resource Center (PSRC) ( provides access to the full ComPADRE database.  This is an updated, database driven version of a service provided by the AAPT for the past six years.

§   The SPS-sponsored collection for physics and astronomy students, The Nucleus, ( provides an information exchange, a virtual student lounge, a research opportunity bulletin board, and a showcase for compelling web resources.  It is designed for and by undergraduate physics and astronomy majors.

§   The Quantum Exchange ( is a collection for teachers of quantum mechanics and modern physics.  It augments standard textbooks with illustrations and simulations, tutorials, curricula, and relevant education research.

§   The APS-sponsored collection of resources for the general public, Physics-to-Go, ( is built for those needing physics resources outside of formal educational settings. This collection includes virtual hands-on experiences with physics and astronomy, accounts of recent physics and astronomy research written for the general public, and information about physics road shows.

§   The AAS-sponsored “Astronomy 101” collection,, (in testing at is a portal for teachers and students of introductory college-level astronomy. It contains links to activities, demonstrations, tutorials, images, raw data, lecture notes, assessments, news items, and curricula. Peer review of items will be an important aspect of this collection.

§   The AAPT-sponsored collection for pre-college teachers, The Physics Front, (soon to be available) will focus initially on high school physics and the needs of new and crossover physics teachers. The language and organization of the collection are designed to be understandable to these new teachers. Along with lesson plans, student activities, and labs, this collection will highlight formal and informal professional development opportunities.

The ComPADRE Tools

The use of these collections, and the building of community around them, requires tools for users and editors.  Users of ComPADRE can search or browse through the records in the database, and sort or filter the results to find what they need.  More importantly, members (registration is free) can participate by recommending items and adding comments to the collections.  Members also can organize materials through an online Filing Cabinet for later use.   Editors have the tools and support needed to add materials to the collections, organize materials through annotations and by inter-relating resources, and to manage an online Peer Review process.  Of course, all of these tools rely on the database and information infrastructure (metatagging) for all of ComPADRE.  All these tools are being evaluated by users and continually improved by ComPADRE staff.

Future Developments

The most important technical development currently under way is the creation of a repository.  This will allow ComPADRE, with the approval of author(s), to directly deliver materials to users.  These resources, that might need more reliable hosting, will be available either from ComPADRE or from the original site.  This will also provide a place for materials that an author may want to remain available but can no longer support.  A related development is a link checker that will regularly search the database for links that are no longer available or with pages that have changed significantly.   Attempts will be made to find and update materials with broken links, vital for providing reliable and useful collections.

ComPADRE growth involves both the addition of resources to current collections and the construction of new collections.  ComPADRE is working with members of the PER community to provide an online annotated bibliography for the field.  There are plans to add collections for the standard junior, senior, and introductory graduate classes in physics and astronomy, as well as unique or emerging topics.  There are plans to extend the pre-college resources to conceptual physics courses, middle school, and then K-5.  Collaborations will be pursued with authors, organizations, and other digital libraries.   All of this growth is meant to provide more and better resources to the users.

The foundations for ComPADRE are constructed and the tools are available for use.  The collections can be accessed, resources discovered, and materials added.  The success of the effort will depend, in large part, on the users and uses of the collections.  Recommendations for materials to include in the collections, both from authors and the user community, are vital for growth.  Comments from the user community will help others better understand and use the resources.  Reviewers, associate editors, and editors of new collections are needed to ensure quality resources and collections.  The ComPADRE staff and the supporting societies welcome your suggestions and participation.

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