Carr McKagan - arxiv.org 2008

Graduate Quantum Mechanics Reform
arxiv.org, submitted to American Journal of Physics

L. D. Carr and S. B. McKagan

We address four main areas in which graduate quantum mechanics education in the U.S. can be improved: course content; textbook; teaching methods; and assessment tools. We report on a three year longitudinal study at the Colorado School of Mines using innovations in all four of these areas. In particular, we have modified the content of the course to reflect progress in the field in the last 50 years, use modern textbooks that include such content, incorporate a variety of teaching techniques based on physics education research, and used a variety of assessment tools to study the effectiveness of these reforms. We present a new assessment tool, the Graduate Quantum Mechanics Conceptual Survey, and further testing of a previously developed assessment tool, the Quantum Mechanics Conceptual Survey (QMCS). We find that graduate students respond well to research-based techniques that have previously been tested mainly in introductory courses, and that they learn a great deal of the new content introduced in each version of the course. We also find that students' ability to answer conceptual questions about graduate quantum mechanics is highly correlated with their ability to solve calculational problems on the same topics. On the other hand, we find that students' understanding of basic undergraduate quantum mechanics concepts at the modern physics level is not improved by instruction at the graduate level.