Graduate Students in
Physics Education Research

AAPT Winter Meeting, Pheonix, AZ:
GSPER Crackerbarrel sesssion.

Answering the question "Should There Be Physics Education Groups in Physics Departments?"

Sanjay Rebello's notes from AAPT GSPER crackerbarrel, 1/6/97

Arguments AGAINST physics education research within the physics dept.
[Common arguments against PER followed by rebuttals]

1) Physics education research produces no new knowledge in physics.

Physics education research is central to teaching physics, and communication of new knowledge. These tasks are central to the progress of any discipline, including physics.

Physics education research develops more effective ways of disseminating new (and existing) knowledge in physics and hence should be done in collaboration with those who create new knowledge i.e. physicists.

Hence, it belongs in the physics deptartment.

2) The research methods used by physics educators are more like those in other depts., such as social sciences rather than physics.

The research methods used by physics educators will be more "scientific" and closer to those used by physicists if this research were done in the physics dept.

Also, the research methods of physics educators are influenced by the content knowledge of their subjects. Physics educators trained as physicists would have a better grasp of the content.

Also, physics depts. are now becoming more broad based and accepting other traditionally non physics areas within their fold e.g. neurophysics, geophysics which require significant knowledge in areas other than physics and also use research methods typical to other disciplines.

3) Educational research (in physics and other sciences) done in the education dept. would suffice to address the pedagogical issues in physics, so we do not need physicists to specialize in education.

In the current college or university structure, cooperation and collaboration between academic departments is more an exception than a norm. Even collaboration between faculty in physics and engineering is not common, although the two disciplines share much in common. Historically, educational research done by educators has not permeated within the physics community to the extent of effecting any significant change in teaching methods in physics. Departments tend to be insular in their nature of operation.

Also, physics (or any other discipline) faculty would be less receptive to suggestions on improving pedagogy if they came from people outside the deptartment, rather than from their colleagues who shared their perspective and knowledge as experts and experience as teachers. The presence of a physics education group within the physics department has a positive influence on the quality of teaching across all levels in physics. Other faculty are more easily exposed to new teaching strategies and pedagogical research and can adopt these in their own teaching.

This page was prepared by Michael Wittmann, University of Maryland, College Park. Any corrections, additions, or comments are welcome!!! To get in touch with Michael, send email to


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