Director’s Corner

Theodore Hodapp

For the past three and a half years, the APS Committee on Education (COE) has been considering the many requests APS receives to provide something similar to what the American Chemical Society has been doing for decades, namely to provide undergraduate Program Approval — a de facto form of accreditation. The committee did an extensive survey of department chairs in 2014, and after considerable discussions made a recommendation to the APS Council in 2015 to form a national task force to develop a guide that would provide best practices in the review, assessment, and improvement of undergraduate physics programs. While not an accreditation document or process at this time, the realities of higher education continue to push colleges and universities increasingly toward accountability that follow accreditation standards. Amplifying these concerns is a movement by the ABET organization to accredit all science programs in addition to its current efforts in engineering.

The Committee on Education felt that the creation of such a guide would allow departments to create, improve, and assess their own flexible programs that respond to their local constraints, resources, and opportunities, while being informed by current research and good practice within the discipline. The aim is to have such a guide also fit into the regular program evaluation cycle experienced by nearly all programs, and give faculty members ideas on how to construct and carry out assessment and evaluation plans that will improve their offerings. Plans are also developing to ensure there are extensive opportunities for feedback from department chairs to create a highly practical document that can be easily understood and implemented by physics faculty. The guide’s development will be informed by many existing reports including the forthcoming Joint Task Force on Undergraduate Physics Programs report (due out in October), which is providing advice on preparing undergraduate students for 21st century careers.

The goal, broadly, is to help departments answer challenges they already face with a collection of knowledge and proven good practice. The task force (Best Practices in Undergraduate Physics Programs — BPUPP) will be broadly soliciting input throughout the process, and currently envisions a “living” document that will be updated as the state of knowledge on various aspects improves. Stay tuned for further developments, as we want to make sure this document meets the needs of physics programs of all sizes.

Disclaimer – The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.