Edward (Joe) Redish


Physics Education Research

Department of Physics

University of Maryland

College Park, MD 20742-4111




What are, to you, the key issues in creating learning resources that support your teaching style and your student's learning styles?

To me, the key issues in creating a learning resource is a deep understanding of the student population I'm teaching. I need to think carefully about where the students are in their learning process and where they need to go. Much of physics education research has focused on ideas that students have about physics and the world that they bring in from their previous learning and experience. These affect how they interpret and learn in class. While knowing this is important, it's not enough. Students also bring expectations from their earlier school experience that may cause them to fail to use appropriate knowledge and skills that they possess. Some of these expectations can be interpreted as a "learning style," but in my experience, students can often go well beyond the limitations that their perception of their abilities and style put upon them.

What is your vision for the "textbook" of the future and what impediments do you see to realizing that vision?

(All my comments refer to textbooks at the university level where all my work has taken place.)

The introductory college science textbook of the present has grown into a costly, overweight, cumbersome, and difficult to use encyclopedia of information. In practice, most students buy it only because the professor assigns problems (or readings) from it and it contains collections of data (equations and factoids) that they can use to solve the required problems or answer questions on a recall-without-thinking recognition exam. In my experience, few students read the text book as a part of their development of their knowledge of physics. (This is somewhat less true at the more advanced levels, but there is still resistance to reading text.)

As a result of research in physics education at the university level, the "textbook" in physics has been evolving for a decade into a collection of materials that includes a traditional narrative but can expand to include group-activity worksheets, laboratories, and in-lecture interactive demonstrations. The coordination and synchronization of these materials is an important next step that we are now struggling with.

The greatest impediment to the creation of powerful and integrated active-learning suites is the unwillingness of many faculty to spend the time and effort to understand the results and implications of education research and to go beyond teaching the way they were taught. They largely focus on "what content should I present" instead of "what skills do I want to help my students learn." This roadblock leads to a secondary, but equally important one. Publishers are driven by the bulk market and tend to drive textbooks to a mediocre sameness rather than be willing to take a leadership role and try innovations. When small innovations are not liked by everyone, the publishers exert strong pressures to return to the norm. The "cycle time" lock of traditional textbook publishing also tends to limit what authors can do to improve their work and newness becomes more important than cumulative improvement.

Looking farther ahead, it seems that the web as a delivery mode offers possibilities of dramatically breaking down the lock publishers have on delivery of text. I see Wikipedia as one of the most promising developments. Text developed by a community (perhaps a group of 6-10 authors) rather than by an individual might have a dramatically (and interestingly) different look. It's mode of development allows an evolution over time. This could help break the cycle-time lock that impedes traditional textbook improvement. Moreover, a Wiki text could be more blog-like, having frequent links to the many excellent simulations and elaborations that are beginning to appear. The problem will be how to prevent students from "getting lost in cyberspace" -- an issue that has been discussed extensively since the first appearance of hypertext 20 years ago (discussed -- but not resolved).

Describe briefly any research you have undertaken on teaching or learning.

I have been an active educational researcher for the past dozen years. The main threads in my research have been as follows.

1. Student expectations and attitudes -- I have explored the role of student expectations in the way they behaved in introductory physics and developed an expectations/attitude survey to give a brief view of some of the dimensions of the evolution of student thinking about physics. What we learned was that student epistemological attitudes (about what kind of knowledge they were to learn and how they were to learn it) were moderately poor upon entry (about 65% "favorable" attitudes) and deteriorated as a result of traditional instruction.

2. Conceptual difficulties -- I have explored student conceptual understanding of a number of topics including wave motion and issues in quantum mechanics.

3. Assessment -- I have done some research on new ways of extracting information from carefully designed multiple choice tests.

4. Cognitive modeling -- Recently, I have been working on cognitive models of student problem solving in physics, in particular with their blending of physics and mathematics. I have used and adapted the concept of epistemic games (locally coherent activities for solving problems) and framing (selectively attending to particular features in an environment to control activation of appropriate cognitive resources) to create models that provide some explanatory power and some guidance for teachers.

Have you created publicly accessible learning resources?

I have created a website for my research group that contains many resources for both the physics teacher and the physics education researcher. The homepage is at http://www.physics.umd.edu/perg/. The website includes (partial list):

For researchers:
1. List and copies of the papers and talks written by the members of the University of Maryland Physics Education Research Group (UMd PERG). This includes the full text of 7 dissertations, about 70 papers (most in full text, some as abstracts), and more than 80 talks. (http://www.physics.umd.edu/perg/papers-talks.htm)

2. Links to other PER groups around the world, to relevant Journals' homepages, and to relevant organizations and societies. (http://www.physics.umd.edu/perg/)

3. Research tools including recommended reading lists and links to conceptual surveys (about 20). (http://www.physics.umd.edu/perg/restools.htm)

For teachers:
1. The complete text of my book for physics teachers, "Teaching Physics (with the Physics Suite)." (http://www2.physics.umd.edu/~redish/Book/)

2. A collection of various kinds of problems: "Thinking Problems", "Estimation Problems," "Extended Homework Problems," and "Peer Instruction Problems" (Problems for use in lecture with student response systems). There are more than 300 problems available, some with (password protected) solutions. (http://www.physics.umd.edu/perg/problems.htm)

3. A collection tutorial worksheets for developing conceptual learning in introductory physics (17) and quantum physics (13). (http://www.physics.umd.edu/perg/tutorials.htm)

4. A set of 11 worksheets for doing Interactive Lecture Demonstrations to help been concepts in a large lecture class. (http://www.physics.umd.edu/perg/ILD.htm )

5. Some first scratchings towards an textbook on mathematical methods for physics majors delivered as linked webpages. (http://www.physics.umd.edu/courses/Phys374/fall05/content.htm)

How would you like to contribute to the workshop?

I am willing to contribute in a variety of ways, depending on the structure decided upon. I think I would like to participate in a panel discussion on the future of the text. I would also be willing to lead a small group through a workshop either in new models of learning environments (for non-education researchers).

What would you like to take away from the workshop?

I would most like to take away from the workshop new information about work and research I did not know existed and new contacts with good people thinking about education. The most valuable result of a conference is building links to a larger community.