Physics Discipline Assessment

 

 

1. Assessment of the discipline as a whole:

 

a.   Who is the person responsible for program assessment, data

gathering and analysis in your discipline?

 

Michael Korth currently coordinates this for the physics discipline.

 

b.   What are the stated goals of your discipline?

 

The physics discipline has four objectives for student learning in the major program:

 

Objective 1:

Students will acquire an understanding of the concepts of classical and modern physics.

 

Objective 2:

Students will learn to formulate and solve quantitative problems.

 

Objective 3:

Students will acquire the ability to experimentally investigate physical phenomena.

 

Objective 4:

Students will learn to communicate, in form and content, both verbally and in writing, the results of scientific work.

 

 

c.   How do you assess whether your discipline is achieving its goals?

 

Formally, the discipline surveys its graduating seniors each year to gauge the success of the program in meeting these objectives.

 

Informally, the discipline faculty evaluate aggregate student learning in their respective courses, accept student input, and discuss this information when considering curricular revisions.

 

d.   Has your discipline modified it's curriculum and/or teaching as a

result of your assessment results, and if so, how?

 

Yes. In response to concerns that our students were not gaining enough expertise with experimental approaches to physics, the discipline discontinued the Advanced Lab course in 1999 and replaced it with the Experimental Physics course. The latter takes students through a more prescriptive set of experimental methods and techniques than the earlier course.

 

The lack of any course in statistical physics became a concern in 2000 due, in part, to student feedback through the formal annual survey of graduating students. A course in statistical physics was added to the curriculum. Due to college-wide constraints, the course is still not required for the major but it is, at least, now available to students.

 

In 2002, at least one faculty member began to notice that the failure/drop out rate in general physics appeared to be greater after semester conversion than before. One hypothesis to explain this is that less well-prepared students, who would have taken the algebra-based physics course under quarters, were not handling the calculus-based course as successfully as had been hoped. (The algebra-based course had been dropped in the conversion of the curriculum to semesters.) A survey of faculty advisors across the Division of Science and Mathematics indicated several cases in which students were altering their academic plans in order to avoid taking calculus-based physics. (In one or two cases, students were going to other universities in order to take algebra-based physics.) A survey of the spring semester general physics class was undertaken. Half of the 60 students who replied indicated an algebra-based physics course would have suited their need and nearly half indicated that they would have preferred that to the course they were in. The discipline will be offering algebra-based physics starting fall 2003.

 

2. Assessment of your upper level seminar/capstone project or course:

 

a. What are your goals for this course?

 

PHYS 4901 SENIOR THESIS

 

Catalog Description:

 

"Students will select a topic of current interest in physics, search the physics literature, synthesize their findings, and present the results both orally and in writing."

 

Course Objectives:

 

(1)  Familiarization with current research topics in physics. (2)  Familiarization with how to search and read physics research literature. (3)  Develop skills of expository scientific writing. (4)   Develop skills of oral presentation of scientific ideas.

 

b. How do you measure whether a student has achieved these goals?

 

Each student submits a written report and presents an oral seminar. (Drafts and practice presentations are required.) The physics faculty, as a group, discuss each student's performance (both written and oral.) Grades are assigned by consensus and course design and parameters are reviewed with an eye toward improving the students' benefits.

 

c. As a discipline, are you satisfied with your

assessment of this course? If not, how might you improve it?

 

We are satisfied.

 

 

Michael Korth

Physics Discipline Coordinator

The physics discipline made three changes to its curriculum for the 2003-2005 catalog:

(1) In 2002, at least one faculty member began to notice that the failure/drop out rate in general physics appeared to be greater after semester conversion than before. One hypothesis to explain this is that less well-prepared students, who would have taken the algebra-based physics course under quarters, were not handling the calculus-based course as successfully as had been hoped. (The algebra-based course had been dropped in the conversion of the curriculum to semesters.) A survey of faculty advisors across the Division of Science and Mathematics indicated several cases in which students were altering their academic plans in order to avoid taking calculus-based physics. (In one or two cases, students were going to other universities in order to take algebra-based physics.) A survey of the spring semester general physics class was undertaken. Half of the 60 students who replied indicated an algebra-based physics course would have suited their need and nearly half indicated that they would have preferred that to the course they were then in. A conversation with a representative of the University of Minnesota Medical School revealed that the algebra-based course is acceptable for pre-med students, the largest major group in the current course. The discipline will be offering algebra-based physics starting fall 2003.

(2) For the past few years, there have been some students who have wished that the single astronomy course offered at UMM would concentrate more on the planets and less on cosmology or more on cosmology and less on constellations or some other emphasis of topics. Different students have different interests and a single semester-length astronomy course cannot span them all. Therefore the discipline will offer two astronomy courses, starting in the fall of 2003, with different emphases, in the hope that students will find one or the other more appropriate.

(3) The senior thesis course has been offered as a single-semester course, in the spring, for senior physics majors. Each student needs to select a topic of current interest in physics and have it approved by the faculty before delving into it. Some students have found a single semester to be rather short for first finding a topic and then writing about it and preparing a seminar. Faculty have therefore encouraged students to begin their topic search before the spring semester begins but students have suggested that they would be better motivated to start their search early if they had to register for the course in the fall. The faculty were willing to move the course to the fall in order to help the students get a better start.



Back to Assessment Results Page