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Cornell University Physics Initiative in Deliberative Practice

In addition to a substantial initiative in the undergraduate biology major program, Cornell University is also working to restructure the core course sequences for engineering and physics majors.

The five-year transition will focus on the three large introductory courses listed below, 

  • Physics 1112, Physics I: Mechanics; 
  • Physics 2213, Physics II: Heat/Electromagnetism; 
  • Physics 2214, Physics III: Oscillations, Waves, and Quantum Physics.

The physics courses identified for re-design are offered each semester and enroll approximately 900 students. A total of nine faculty (three for each course) are involved with instruction of the three courses each semester along with several teaching assistants. For sustainability, faculty involved with development of materials will be paired with incoming faculty/instructors. This pairing will provide time for the new faculty to learn the teaching style before taking over in subsequent years. In addition, the physics department will utilize an electronic in-house data management system “Physics Course Preservation” website to archive all material. Faculty involved with development of new instructional tools will be given monetary support for their individual research programs (in exchange for time devoted to teaching) and teaching awards will be given over the duration of the project to encourage adoption of the active learning approaches.

The primary focus of this initiative is to transition from traditional lecture to more deliberate pedagogical approaches to enhance student learning and retention. Pre and post course evaluations will be conducted to determine whether or not new teaching practices are helping students learn more efficiently, grasp deeper level concepts and gain expert level mastery of key skills needed for advanced coursework. 

This initiative is supported by the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE), The Center for Integrating Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL), the Learning Strategies Center (LSC), and Cornell Information Technologies (CIT) at Cornell University. These various academic support units will assist with assessments of student learning and perceptions and implementation of new learning strategies. Summative data analysis will be performed via senior surveys and comparative analysis of student performance and overall analysis of learning will be conducted before, during and after transition in these courses and using standardized metrics (GRE, MCAT).