FEd Summer 2002 Newsletter - Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics at Two Year College

Summer 2002



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Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics at Two Year Colleges (SPIN-UP/TYC)

Mary Beth Monroe

The American Association of Physics Teachers has received funding from the NSF Advanced Technological Education Program for a new project targeting physics programs at two year colleges (TYCs). Over the next eighteen months, Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics at Two Year Colleges (SPIN-UP/TYC) will conduct ten site visits and a nation-wide survey of all TYC physics programs. The site visit reports and the report of the survey, prepared and administered by the American Institute of Physics, will identify and describe TYC physics programs that are shaping the future with initiatives that

  • Encourage students to pursue degrees in physics or other Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) areas;
  • Encourage women and minorities to study physics;
  • Encourage students to pursue teacher preparation programs in physics or related STEM areas;
  • Successfully implement academic change at two year institutions.

Following a review of the site visit reports and AIP survey report, the project leadership will prepare a major report describing identified characteristics of outstanding TYC physics programs. Case studies of two year colleges will be prepared by the project leadership and these will be included in the report which will be disseminated to college physics departments nation-wide. This AAPT project parallels the SPIN-UP initiative of the National Task Force for Undergraduate Physics, funded by the ExxonMobil Foundation, that is compiling a report based on twenty-three site visits to successful physics departments of four year colleges and universities and a nation-wide survey of undergraduate physics departments at four year colleges and universities.

The Two Year College in the Twenty-First Century (TYC21), an AAPT project from 1995-1999 also funded by the NSF, produced a national network of more than 500 two year college physics faculty. James Palmer, Illinois State University, in his "Notes from the Editor" in the TYC21 monograph, A Model for Reform, explains the need for a strengthened two year college presence within the national community of college physics teachers: "Community colleges enroll just under half (46%) of all first-time college students in the United States. Among first-time students at public institutions, 54% attend two year colleges. For many Americans, especially for those who do not go on to become physicists, it is the community college that provides a window to the world of physics. And among those who teach at the college level, it is the community college professorate that has the greatest collective experience in introducing physics to the citizenry." Jay Norton, University of Southern Mississippi, wrote in the "Project Summary" of the monograph, "The educational diversity and opportunity in the two year colleges could be (and should be) exploited to aid in retaining students in the sciences, as well as prepare a science literate citizenry." The 1996 AIP Two Year College Physics Study reported that 31% of TYC physics students are women and that 15% of the students enrolled in physics at community colleges are underrepresented minorities. However, opportunities to increase these percentages are high since 58% of all two year college students are females and minorities constitute about 23%.

During the initial phase of SPIN-UP/TYC, the principal investigators (Tom O'Kuma, Lee College; Mary Beth Monroe, Southwest Texas Junior College; and Warren Hein, AAPT Executive Office) defined a set of Project Core Questions and Indicators of a Successful TYC Physics Program that will serve as guidelines for the site visits and national survey. The Core Questions, which appear below, reflect the diversity characteristic of TYC college missions, student populations, and programs of study:

  1. What type of classroom environments and course structures are effective in preparing two year college students for success
  2. a. at the two year college?

    b. in the workplace?

    c. for self improvement?

  3. What institutional and faculty activities and practices are effective in promoting change
  4. a. in the classroom?

    b. in the physics program?

  5. What institutional and faculty initiatives are effective in recruiting and retaining
  6. a. STEM majors?

    b. women and under representative populations?

    c. future K-12 teachers, especially STEM teachers?

  7. What formal (articulation agreements, bridging program courses) and informal (professional interactions) mechanisms are most effective in insuring a seamless transition for students from the two year college
  8. a. to the four year institution?

    b. to the workplace?

    c. to both of these?

  9. What institutional and faculty initiatives are effective in establishing cooperative activities

a. with local schools (pre-college), private and public?

b. with civic clubs and/or youth organizations (e.g. Boy Scouts of America)?

c. with the general public?

The ten Indicators, mapped to the Core Questions, address the areas of (1) stable enrollment, (2) transfer success of students enrolled in STEM courses to four year institutions and/or the workplace, (3) morale among TYC physics faculty and students, (4) respect and collegiality among TYC faculty and administration, (5) cooperation among STEM faculty on the TYC campus and between institutions, (6) student diversity, (7) professional development, (8) learning styles and needs of TYC students, (9) contributions to the science preparation of future teachers, and (10) issues relating to institutional transfer of students.

Two year college faculty, for the most part, have little experience in conducting site visits to academic institutions for the purpose of identifying exemplary practices in physics classrooms and programs. In addition, little documentation exists concerning physics programs at two year colleges and unfortunately most physics faculty at four year colleges are not aware of the differences between their institutional structures and missions and those of the community colleges. Therefore in an effort to enhance the skills of the faculty who will conduct the TYC site visits over the next year and to refine the site visit tools prepared by the SPIN-UP/TYC project leadership, the project leaders organized a Training and Planning Conference hosted by Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, July 25-27, 2002. Fifteen faculty from two year colleges, eight faculty from four year colleges and one industrial physicist attended the intense three day meeting.

Trial site visits and preparation of the site visit reports were the focal activities for the training workshop. Prior to the visits, site visit teams of three members each prepared sets of site visit protocol questions addressing the SPIN-UP/TYC Core Questions and Indicators of an Outstanding TYC Physics Program. Subsequently Jack Hehn, AIP Education Director, engaged the teams in group dialog to contemplate fictional, but typical, scenarios of TYC physics programs and to consider how the information in the scenarios related to the Indicators.

Four teams visited the multi-person physics department (three or more full time faculty) at San Antonio College and four teams visited Coastal Bend College in Beeville, Texas, which has a typical TYC physics department of two or less faculty. Each team then prepared a site visit report and an oral presentation concerning one aspect of their visitation. A panel consisting of Jack Hehn, Karen Johnston, Momentum Group, and Bernard Khoury, AAPT Executive Officer, through responsive commentary to the oral presentations, highlighted the nature of the information collected during the site visits and the relevance and completeness of the information as project data. During the concluding discussion, participants identified additional information teams should be provided with prior to actual site visits, additional college resource personnel the visiting teams might want to interview and a list of seventeen lessons learned while conducting the site visits. The project's external evaluator, Karen Johnston, in her initial evaluation of the training conference reported that the conference had successfully achieved its goals and objectives. In addition she noted that the faculty who will serve as site visitors "bring a wealth of talent, experience and credibility to the important and delicate tasks of visiting and reporting on physics programs at other institutions."

In late June, 2003, SPIN-UP/TYC will host a Writing and Planning Conference. During this conference the project leadership and invited participants will critically examine the case studies of TYC physics programs emanating from the TYC site visit reports and the AIP report of the TYC survey in anticipation of identifying essential elements of highly successful TYC physics programs. The TYC case studies and a description of the essential elements will be provided in the SPIN-UP/TYC report that will be available January 2004.

Mary Beth Monroe is a Math and Physics Instructor at Southwest Texas Junior College, Uvalde, TX 78801. She can be reached at mbmonroe@swtjc.cc.tx.us. She is Secretary of the AAPT.