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By Leah Poffenberger
The Effective Practices for Physics Programs (EP3) Project, led by the APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) and funded by a $2.3 million NSF award has just begun rolling out the EP3 Guide, which aims to help physics departments respond to opportunities and challenges with proven good practices. Starting this month, the project will begin introducing sections of the Guide to its website, offering a compelling, researched resource for anyone looking to improve or enrich their department.
The EP3 Guide is a collection of knowledge and experiences from experts in physics as well as STEM and physics education, designed to help leaders of physics departments create plans and practices to apply to their own institution’s specific situations and needs. Sections of the Guide will cover topics ranging from recruitment and retention, to curricula and pedagogy, to advising and career preparation. About a quarter of the guide will roll out in February, with additional resources, such as a guide to departmental review, coming later this year.
“We’re very excited about rolling out EP3. This is the first time the peer-reviewed Guide will be accessible, with about quarter of the planned sections—eventually we’ll have over 30,” says Kathryne Sparks Woodle, Project Development Manager at APS. “We’ve been working with hundreds of members of the physics community to gather original contributions which have been synthesized into sections by the EP3 taskforce—a leadership group that is composed of prominent physics faculty and educational researchers.”
The EP3 Guide will be housed on an interactive website, designed to help users think through goals and possible solutions in a reflective manner, weighing specific departmental needs, climate, and resources with suggested effective practices.
“There are a lot of strategies that may be listed, but some of them might not be appropriate at your institution. These aren’t things you have to do, but strategies you might want to consider for your specific issue or circumstance,” says Michael Jackson, EP3 Task Force Co-Chair and Dean of the College of Science and Technology at Millersville University. “Those are the things we want to emphasize—this isn’t a checklist or a to-do list, but a resource to look at. What are some things that I can do, within my ability? Context is very important.”
Each section of the EP3 Guide contains contributions from two types of experts, drawn from the physics and education communities: content experts—someone who has conducted research in a particular topic—and implementation experts—those who know about a particular approach because they have used it successfully. Contributors were recruited by the EP3 Task Force members who used their connections within the physics world, including at APS and AAPT, to seek out suitable expertise.
“There’s all this information out there in the community—from information on education diversity and inclusion to retention to pedagogy—and it’s overwhelming for chairs to think about one of these things, let alone all of them together,” says David Craig, EP3 Task Force Co-chair and Associate Department Head in the Oregon State University physics department. “There is so much the community knows about how to do things—how do we put this together? That was the beginning of EP3—tapping into community expertise and making it easy to use. That’s a real strength of this project.”
Harnessing expertise from across the physics community and subsequently turning that knowledge into an easily accessible resource meets a need that was identified by a 2012 APS Committee on Education (COE) survey. Both Jackson and Craig, former members of COE, were keenly aware of the importance of such a project from their own institutional experiences. Jackson benefitted from access to the APS Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics (SPIN-UP) report as chair of his physics department. When he became an academic dean, he saw a need to provide chairs with the means to make informed requests on behalf of their departments.
“I was fortunate to come from one of those departments in [the SPIN UP] report, and I was familiar with a number of strategies that a department could implement if they wanted to achieve some of the goals,” says Jackson. “Now as a dean, people come with these requests [to improve their departments], and I wanted them to be prepared to make requests that I could support and advocate for.”
When Craig was tasked with rebuilding a newly-closed physics department into a now-thriving program, he was largely unaware of the SPIN-UP report, which he says, after reading it later, would have made his task much simpler. Now he sees an opportunity for EP3 to keep other physics faculty from having to improvise.
“Mike mentioned the SPIN-UP report, which was a real landmark in physics and which helped shape EP3,” says Craig. “One of the early components of our vision was to not come up with a report that will then get shelved, we wanted to come up with a resource that stays current. How do we create a structure and a process, a living guide that is updated as new research comes in and attitudes change?”
When the EP3 Task Force formed in earnest in 2016—first known as BPUPP or Best Practices in Undergraduate Physics Programs—a major component of their work was not only capturing best practices but creating processes of their own so they may continue to disseminate new information.
“As we’re developing content and the process of how it’s developed and reviewed and disseminated, we’re reviewing that strategy to see how we can use it for the years to come to regularly review the content that’s been developed, revise it accordingly, and identifying new areas that the physics community needs,” says Jackson.
For the past four years, the EP3 Guide has been taking shape through a rigorous process, beginning with the Task Force identifying relevant section topics, and moving through contributor recruitment to content undergoing both editing and review. Alongside the launch of the Guide, a pilot program, the Departmental Action Leadership Institutes (DALIs), which was recently awarded supplemental funding by the APS Innovation Fund, will train teams at different institutions to use EP3 effectively.
The rollout of the EP3 Guide represents a huge milestone for the project, but as the Guide continues to grow and evolve, Task Force leaders hope to see physics emerge as a leader in promoting effective practices to other STEM fields.
“One of the reasons [this project] is so important is that physics is always under the microscope from a resource perspective,” says Jackson. “As a result, we want to help departments not only survive but thrive. We also want to help them be leaders on campus, to let other people look up to them on how to run a department.”
For more on the EP3 project, visit the EP3 web page.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine