Featured project: IOLab

PER has developed the IOLab system, built around a low-cost, easy-to-use, all-purpose handheld device that performs a myriad of functions for both introductory and advanced physics courses.

Introductory Physics Course Reform

Innovations in Undergraduate Physics Education at Illinois
Innovations in Undergraduate Physics Education at Illinois
Several recent developments have stimulated our Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I) to undertake a major revitalization of our introductory physics curriculum. First, physics education research has provided new insights to radically improve the way we teach physics, and second, the computer revolution has provided new, exciting pedagogical tools. These new capabilities, coupled with the need to provide greater flexibility for our students, and the capability of the World Wide Web to provide an interactive learning environment, have stimulated us to revise completely our introductory courseware. We believe we are establishing a paradigm for science education for the 21st century that develops higher-order thinking competencies, promotes collaborative learning, and improves communication skills.

Over the past few years (Fall 1996 - Spring 2000), both the calculus-based introductory physics sequence (Physics 111-114) and the algebra-based sequence (Physics 101-102) have been completely restructured. These courses are taken by nearly 5000 undergraduate students each year at the U of I. This fundamental curriculum revision has five overall objectives:

Predict, observe, explain!
Predict, observe, explain!
  • To "institutionalize" meaningful course content and effective pedagogical methods, so that good teaching is not dependent on a single inspired instructor but is integral to all sections of all classes.
  • To incorporate new physics instructional techniques, based on physics education research, that emphasize conceptual understanding.
  • To utilize state-of-the-art instructional media, including multimedia lecture presentations, World Wide Web-based interactive course materials, and laboratory computer data acquisition and analysis.
  • To develop students' teamwork skills and to promote students' opportunities for collaborative learning.
  • To develop a model for basic science teaching that will be "portable" to other departments on our campus and to other physics departments at large research universities.

Well-constructed courses in physics provide the foundation of technical and scientific understanding for most science and engineering students — "Physics is the liberal arts education for a technological society" —and we believe our Department's investment in improved instruction in fundamental physics will provide substantive positive returns, both for our students and for their future employers.

Papers discussing the reform

Presentations given

Links to materials used in our courses

Examples of our latest efforts in web-based learning

Websites of our reformed courses