FEd Summer 2002 Newsletter - Seeking New Models for Education Programs at APS Meetings

Summer 2002



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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.