Title: Reinventing College Physics for Biologists: Explicating an epistemological curriculum
Edward F. Redish and David Hammer
The University of Maryland Physics Education Research Group (UMd-PERG) carried out a five-year research project to rethink, observe, and reform introductory algebra-based (college) physics. This class is one of the Maryland Physics Department's large service courses, serving primarily life-science majors. After consultation with biologists, we re-focused the class on helping the students learn to think scientifically -- to build coherence, think in terms of mechanism, and to follow the implications of assumptions. We designed the course to tap into students' productive conceptual and epistemological resources, based on a theoretical framework from research on learning. The reformed class retains its traditional structure in terms of time and instructional personnel, but we modified existing best-practices curricular materials, including Peer Instruction, Interactive Lecture Demonstrations, and Tutorials. We provided class-controlled spaces for student collaboration, which allowed us to observe and record students learning directly. We also scanned all written homework and examinations, and we administered pre-post conceptual and epistemological surveys. The reformed class enhanced the strong gains on pre-post conceptual tests produced by the best-practices materials while obtaining unprecedented pre-post gains on epistemological surveys instead of the traditional losses.