Physics Discipline Assessment 2006-2007


Scope of assessment activities

         ___√__Course-embedded assessment

                     ___√___ Pre- and post-testing

         ______ Outside the classroom

         ______ Across the discipline

Direct measures of student learning

         ___√__ Capstone experience

         ______ Portfolio assessment

         ______ Standardized tests

         ______ Performance on national licensure, certification or

                     preprofessional exams

         ______ Qualitative internal and external juried review of

                     of comprehensive senior projects

         ______ Externally reviewed exhibitions and performances in

                     the arts

         ______ External evaluation of performance during internships


Discussion and Description

Discipline goals, direct measures, and improved student learning


         1. Physics discipline learning objectives. Students will

      acquire an understanding of the concepts of classical and modern physics

      learn to formulate and solve quantitative problems

      acquire the ability to experimentally investigate physical phenomena

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


         2. Capstone experience: Senior Thesis.

         The goals of this course reflect discipline learning objectives:

      Familiarization with current research topics in physics.

      Familiarization with how to search and read physics research literature.

      Develop skills of expository scientific writing.

      Develop skills of oral presentation of scientific ideas.

      To apply undergraduate knowledge in physics to current research topics.

            Through a collaborative process with other students and faculty, each student develops a proposal to study a topic of current research interest in the physics community. After approval of the topic, the student works with an assigned faculty advisor to develop the paper and oral presentation. The end products are a written report and an oral presentation. (Drafts and practice presentations are required.) The physics faculty meet to judge the extent to which each student came to understand the topic, how well the student utilized the research literature, and how well the student presented the topic in both written and oral presentations. The faculty also discuss how the course could be altered to increase students' achievement of the course objectives.

In the past year or two, the faculty observed a need for more structure in the course to keep students on track during the long periods of time allotted to study and writing. As of the fall of 2007, the faculty implemented a series of new milestones in the course in order to provide such structure. These milestones will encourage students to stay on track and will provide more opportunities for specific and detailed feedback from faculty as students are working on their papers and presentations.

A couple of years ago, the faculty observed that some students were having difficulty selecting topics for senior thesis projects. Due to a lack of awareness of current research, the students were taking too long to identity a topic, which resulted in less time to do the requisite study and writing, and contributed to poorer outcomes. In part to address this, the physics discipline created a course known as the "journal club," in which students interact with current research literature in physics in a more informal, discussion-based format. One goal for the journal club was to expose students to current research topics earlier in their undergraduate years so that they would have a better start on the first two objectives of senior thesis. Because this new course has only been in place for two years, this fall will provide the first opportunity to observe whether this makes a difference for students in Senior Thesis.


         3. Course-embedded assessment. Pre-test/post-test

         Stars, galaxies and cosmology.

         This is a general education course without lab in the physical science category. The instructor uses a variation of the pre-test/post-test method with a variety of experiences in-between to enhance student learning. An example[1] is the distance modulus equation, which relates the apparent and intrinsic brightness of a star to its distance from the observer. The pre-test is a worksheet that the instructor collects, evaluates, and records a score for each student; the score provides both a benchmark for gauging improvement and an indicator of weaknesses and strengths in student performance. A quiz on the topic is used in the same way. Besides being used as assessment tools, the pre-test and exercises are graded for participation/effort. A problem on the midterm constitutes the post-test on this particular topic, gauges how successfully students mastered it, and provides one item for determining the course grade.



General education categories spanned by the discipline


            Physics courses bear one of two general education designators, either Sci, physical and biological sciences without lab or Sci-L, physical and biological sciences with lab. Journal club, directed study and senior thesis carry no general education designator.



[1] The full exercise is among the discipline papers in the appendices.