Evidence-based teaching strategies in Physics 101

Physics 101 is the introductory calculus-based physics course for life science students at UBC. Over the past decade, departmental efforts related to the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative have resulted into the “transformation” of this course, from traditional lecture-based instruction to an interactive engagement style. Pre-reading assignments, peer instruction and clickers, in-class worksheets, and two-stage exams are all now standard in this course.

Below, I curate some of the documentation for specific components of Physics 101 that has resulted out of the transformation efforts. Unless otherwise mentioned, these studies have taken place in this course.



Pre-reading assignments are brief, focussed reading assignments (with quizzes) designed to give students an introduction to the most important ideas before they are discussed in class. These assignments can support an interactive classroom, as students are better prepared to tackle the hard work of organizing and making sense of the knowledge through discussion and activities.

A “best practices” cheat sheet for creating pre-reading assignments is found in [1]. In [2], evidence for the efficacy of these assignments is further described.

[1] Georg Rieger and Cynthia Heiner. “Preclass-Reading Assignments: Why they may be the most important homework for your students.” Two-pager, available: http://cwsei.ubc.ca/resources/files/Pre-reading_guide_CWSEI.pdf.

[2] Heiner, Cynthia E., Amanda I. Banet, and Carl Wieman. “Preparing students for class: How to get 80% of students reading the textbook before class.” American Journal of Physics 82.10 (2014): 989-996. http://scitation.aip.org/content/aapt/journal/ajp/82/10/10.1119/1.4895008.


Two-stage exams

Two-stage (or group) exams are exams in which, after completing the test individually, students get into groups of 3 or 4 and write the same (or very similar) exam again immediately after. This is a learning opportunity: Students get feedback (through peer discussions) on their thinking at a time when it matters to them. In addition, the structure dovetails nicely with the overall active learning structure of the course, generating buy-in for in-class peer discussions.

In [3] and [4], some of the practical details of why and how to do two-stage exams are described, and reasons why students like group exams are given. The studies undertaken in [5] (done at UBC, but not in Physics 101) and [6] provide evidence for student learning from group exams, using retention tests given a few days to several weeks after the group exam. Overall, these papers provide evidence for both the learning potential and affective benefits of two-stage exams.

[3] Rieger, G., and Cynthia E. Heiner. “Examinations that support collaborative learning: The students’ perspective.” Journal of College Science Teaching 43 (2014): 41-47. Available: http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/SEI_research/files/Rieger-Heiner_2-stage-Exams_JCST2014.pdf.

[4] Wieman, Carl E., Georg W. Rieger, and Cynthia E. Heiner. “Physics Exams that Promote Collaborative Learning.” The Physics Teacher 52 (2014): 51-53. http://scitation.aip.org/content/aapt/journal/tpt/52/1/10.1119/1.4849159.

[5] Gilley, Brett H., and Bridgette Clarkston. “Collaborative testing: Evidence of learning in a controlled in-class study of undergraduate students.” Journal of College Science Teaching 43 (2014): 83-91. Available: http://www.zoology.ubc.ca/files/Group_Exam.pdf.

[6] J. Ives. “Measuring the Learning from Two-Stage Collaborative Group Exams.” 2014 PERC Proceedings [Minneapolis, MS, July 30-31, 2014], edited by P. V. Engelhardt, A. D. Churukian, and D. L. Jones. Available: http://www.compadre.org/per/items/detail.cfm?ID=13464.

(Note: See also useful implementation information on the UBC EOAS Science Education Initiative blog at http://blogs.ubc.ca/eoassei/two-stage-exams/.)

Paired teaching

Paired teaching is an arrangement in which two faculty are collaboratively responsible for all aspects of delivering a course. In Physics 101, it has been used to promote evidence-based teaching strategies: Faculty with less experience in these methods have been paired with a more experienced faculty when they enter the course as an instructor new to Physics 101.

In [7], preliminary results of the paired teaching program in our department are described, with suggestions of factors that could influence the effectiveness of paired teaching for professional development.

[7] Jared Stang and Linda Strubbe. “Paired teaching for faculty professional development in teaching.” Submitted to the Proceedings of the 2015 Western Conference on Science Education. Available: http://arxiv.org/abs/1507.05948.




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