Testing and Evaluation of Redesigned First Year Physics Lab Courses

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Barbara Frisken, Department of Physics

Project team: Daria Ahrensmeier, TLC Educational Consultant

Timeframe: May 2015 to April 2016    

Support provided: $5,000 for 18 students to test labs, plus assistance with proposal development

Courses addressed:

  • PHYS 132 – Physics Laboratory I
  • PHYS 133 – Physics Laboratory II

Final report: View Barbara Frisken's final project report (PDF) and conference presentation (PDF)

Interim report: View Barbara Frisken's interim project report (PDF)

Description: We have designed new labs based on physics education research and experience at various institutions. We have developed a set of design principles aligned with learning goals that we hope will be of benefit to students. We need to make sure that the tasks are achievable by the average student but also stimulate and challenge all students. Before full implementation with a large class, we need to run tests with “typical” students in order to refine and improve the lab materials.  We also wish to do some investigation of student learning to evaluate the effectiveness of our approach.  We will to do this as a two-phase project. The first phase will focus on the first-semester labs (PHYS 132) and the second phase will focus on the second-semester labs (PHYS 133).

Questions addressed:

  • What are the students’ initial views on measurement, data analysis and experiment design?
  • Do the students perform the labs as intended?
  • Do the students struggle with particular sections?
  • What are the students’ final views on measurement, data analysis and experiment design?
  • Are the labs stimulating? Challenging? Instructive?

Knowledge sharing: We will present our results to local colleagues. We have a team working on the redesign of the first year labs who will be following this closely.  We also hope to share our results at an annual Symposium for Teaching and Learning at SFU. Past experience has shown that other groups are interested in our work on re-structuring first year labs. Also, improving the first year lab experience is seen as a key component to attracting and retaining physics students. 

Ahrensmeier, D., Frisken, B., Johnson, S., & McGuirk, J. (2016, June).  How redesigning our first-year labs grew into a Gesamtkunstwerk in Physics Education. Presentation at the 2016   Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) Congress, Ottawa, ON.

Frisken, B. (2016, May). Restructuring the first-year physics labs at SFU. Presentation at the British Columbia Association of Physics Teachers Conference, Vancouver Community College,Vancouver, BC.