Creating a Student-driven Literature Resource for Newcomers to PER

Lisa Goodhew, University of Washington, and the PERCoGS Executive Committee

Several members of the Physics Education Research Consortium of Graduate Students (PERCoGS) attended the Foundations and Frontiers of Physics Education Research Conference (FFPER), supported in part by a grant from the APS Forum on Education that reduced costs for all graduate students attending FFPER. A key feature of FFPER, its afternoon working groups, organized by conference attendees in which groups of conference attendees meet to discuss a particular goal relevant to the PER community. This format provided PERCoGS a fantastic opportunity to work with PER graduate students, postdocs, and faculty to create a new literature resource for newcomers to the field.

What is PERCoGS?

The Physics Education Research Consortium of Graduate Students (PERCoGS) formed in 2013 as a means to develop and maintain a stronger PER Graduate Student community. PERCoGS consists of three elected officers (President, Secretary, and Publicist), graduate student representatives to the PER Leadership and Organizing Council (PERLOC), and the AAPT Committee on Graduate Education. Currently, the PERCoGS president serves as a representative to the APS GPER Executive Committee. (For more information about the formation and structure of PERCoGS, our founding document can be viewed here). The primary goals of PERCoGS are: 1) to broaden graduate student participation in the PER community, 2) to provide professional development opportunities to graduate students, 3) to represent graduate students in the governing bodies of PER, and 4) to highlight the diversity of PER graduate students. With a view toward these goals, PERCoGS has organized sessions for graduate students at American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) Summer and Winter Meetings since 2015 (as these are the most widely attended conferences by PER graduate students). At the April 2017 APS Meeting, PERCoGS organized a student dinner for PER graduate and undergraduate students in attendance, and we hope to continue to build a presence and community at APS April Meetings. PERCoGS has also published a quarterly newsletter and created online resources to support community-building and professional development, which can be found on our website.

FFPER working group to create a new literature resource

Research within PER is diverse, ranging from university students’ conceptual understanding of quantum mechanics to middle school students’ development of a physics identity to the knowledge that physics teachers need in order to teach well. For those who are new to the field, it can be challenging to learn about the different areas of PER and to gain a sense of what those various kinds of research might look like in practice. At the Graduate Student Topical Discussions that PERCoGS organizes at AAPT meetings, we often hear that students wish they had an accessible way to familiarize themselves with different kinds of PER. In a field where research groups tend to focus on one or two “kinds” of PER, a resource like this would be useful for undergraduates considering PER graduate programs and for graduate students who want to know about the kinds of research being done outside of their own institution. PERCoGS felt that this gap could be addressed by collecting a list of papers that illustrate the various research agendas that are currently being pursued in PER. Our aim was to create a list of papers that are illustrative of the landscape of PER today, well written, and understandable without a great deal of previous knowledge on the topic.

The efforts of this working group are intended to complement and build upon already-existing literature resources, such as the 2005 Literary Canon in PER,1 the 1999 Physics Education Research Resource Letter by McDermott and Redish,2 as well as resource letters on particular areas of research within PER. Like these resources, our list of papers is intended to be a helpful resource for those who wish to familiarize themselves with PER generally or specific research areas within the field. The list of papers created by this working group list adds to these existing resources in two important ways: (1) it gives a current, if rough-grained, assessment of the many kinds of work being done in PER today, taking into account the expansion of the field over the last 10 years, and (2) it attempts to recommend a few concise introductory-level papers, rather than to list the seminal papers relevant to various areas of research.

In creating this list of articles, the PERCoGS committee wanted to be particularly attentive to creating a list that was inclusive of the entire field—to the extent that this is possible in a manageable set of articles—and represent researchers from many different institutions. We felt that this task would be best done in conversation with a broader subset of the PER community, rather than by the PERCoGS executive committee alone. The “working group” format of FFPER provided an opportunity to work with PER graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members to create this resource. Several PERCoGS members who attended FFPER therefore initiated this working group.

A total of 18 PER grad students, postdocs, and faculty attended the working group meeting. The organizers shared the specific goals of this working group: to agree on ~10 categories of PER that could give a newcomer a “lay of the land,” (although these categories may not cover all of PER) and deciding on easy-to-read articles that illustrate these categories. Members of this working group first discussed what they felt were the important areas of research in PER in small groups, which ultimately resulted in a total of 16 categories of PER research. Then, small groups were tasked with brainstorming papers to illustrate each of these categories. Since the final product of this working group was aimed at newcomers to PER, the goal of these small group discussions was to come up with papers that are relatively easy to read and do not require specialized background knowledge. These discussions provided us with many great articles to illustrate each research area, and we are in the process of culling this to an inclusive yet manageable set of articles (no small task!). Ultimately, we aim for a set of 10-15 papers that we recommend as a starting place for learning about the broad space of PER. We hope that this can be useful to anyone who is interested in PER and wants to know more about the diverse research agendas within this field, and that this list provides students with a starting point to engage in conversation with researchers from other sub-fields or institutions. We expect this may be particularly useful for undergraduate students who are considering graduate work in PER and for graduate students who work in PER but are relatively unfamiliar with the kinds of research being done outside of their own institution. If you, or anyone you know, would find this resource useful, you can find it posted on the PERCoGS website when finalized.

Lisa Goodhew is a graduate student in the University of Washington Physics Education Group and PERCoGS Publicist. To contact the PERCoGS or to be added to the PER graduate student email list, please send an email to


1. J. Thompson and B. Ambrose, “A Literary Canon in Physics Education Research,” Forum on Education Newsletter, American Physical Society (Fall, 2005).

2. L.C. McDermott and E.F. Redish, “Resource letter: PER-1: Physics education research,” Am. J. Phys. 67, 755-767 (1999).

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.