red Supported Site Boston University: Course Reform


  • Eric Mazur of Harvard, who developed Peer Instruction, came to Boston University to give a departmental colloquium in January, titled "The Scientific Approach to Teaching: Research as a Basis for Course Design".
  • We further expanded the Learning Assistant (LA) program in the Department of Physics, in non-major courses as well as courses taken by physics majors, which has positively impacted faculty attitudes toward reformed teaching and also assisted in the transformation of discussion sections into student-centered, active-learning environments.
  • We continued using the pre-lecture videos and checkpoint quizzes (in the Just-in-Time-Teaching model) that we introduced in 2011-12 in all of our large, introductory physics classes, to help students better engage with the material and to help instructors become more aware of student preconceptions and difficulties.
  • We established a pilot studio course for one section of ~36 students (running concurrently with multiple sections of an algebra-based, introductory physics, large-lecture-centered course), for which the TIR assisted in course development as well as implementation. The pilot was expanded to two sections of 30-35 students in Spring 2013, in advance of a large-scale studio implementation (three 81-student sections) in Fall 2013.
  • In 2011, we introduced a section of the STEM pedagogy course (SED SC521) specifically for Physics Learning Assistants, refining and altering material each semester to better reflect needs of the different physics courses utilizing LA's.
  • In 2011-12, we established a pre-practicum course for STEM majors (SED CT375), with major emphasis on background reading in pedagogy and preparation of student lesson plans. The TIR offered many curriculum pieces directly related to the classroom experience.


  • The utilization of Learning Assistants is not uniform by all professors across all courses, limiting their effectiveness as well as their teaching experiences, although this has improved in the second year of the LA program.
  • Our reform efforts are proceeding more quickly in the introductory physics courses for non-majors than they are in the courses for majors.
  • Currently, the LA's get more training in pedagogy than do the graduate teaching assistants, and it would be good to have more consistency in the training for these two groups.


  • It is important for the TIR and the LA Coordinator (Jariwala) to attend weekly planning meetings for all courses with LA's and to approach professors individually about the effective use of LA's in a reformed teaching environment.
  • With the support of the Chair and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Physics, established Steering Committees for all the large-lecture introductory classes, with the goal of building consensus for adopting new teaching innovations and for support in managing the different "technological parts" and the associated grades. One of us (Jariwala) is Chair of the steering committee for the large calculus-based sequence, and Goldberg and Duffy are members of the committee for the algebra-based sequence.
  • A dedicated classroom, specifically designed for implementation of a revised studio curriculum in three 81-student sections of the large algebra-based introductory physics course, has been built. This initiative was led by Goldberg, in close cooperation with the Chair.
  • Duffy was granted full-semester course development assignment in lieu of a regular teaching assignment in Fall 2012, to design a new, comprehensive studio curriculum and test components in the pilot studio course.

Lessons Learned

  • For the studio class, more effort is required to design and test the new integrated curriculum, instead of attempting to modify existing curricular pieces.
  • For all new physics and education classes, greater effort is required in reaching out to faculty, individually and in meetings, to build support for these classes.

PY105/106 and 211/212 (multiple sections, multiple semesters)

  • Before the PhysTEC project, our large-lecture, introductory physics classes did not have any Learning Assistants and only partial attempts at reforming traditional, Teaching Fellow-led discussion sections. The integration of LA's has led to a more student-centered environment in discussions, as well as more awareness of reformed pedagogy among faculty members.

PY105/106 (studio sections)

  • Before the PhysTEC project, this course did not exist. Data collected and lessons learned from two years of piloting will help in designing the studio physics curriculum for full implementation in three 81-student sections starting in Fall 2013 in a new Interactive Studio Classroom.

SC521 A1 (STEM pedagogy course for physics LA's)

  • Before the PhysTEC project, this course existed only for Chemistry LA's. Revised and expanded to reflect different physics courses taught by different LA's.

CT375 (Pre-practicum course for STEM majors)

  • Before PhysTEC project, this course did not exist. Created syllabus based on research of similar recruitment-style education courses such as the UTeach Step 1 course.