Integrating Computation into Undergraduate Physics

Project No.
PI Name
Kelly Roos
Bradley University

Abstract 1

Integrating Computation into Undergraduate Physics

Presentation Type
Kelly Roos, Bradley University Larry Engelhardt, Francis Marion University Marie Lopez del Puerto, St. Thomas University Marcos caballero, Michigan State University Norman Chonacky, Yale University Bob Hilborn, American Association of Physics Teachers


We have commenced a transformative faculty development project in which we will build and nurture a community of physics faculty, from a diversity of institutions across the country, who are committed to integrating computation into undergraduate physics courses. Although computation has entered the undergraduate physics curriculum in the last two decades in the form of isolated courses on computational and numerical methods, its inclusion as an integral tool in all undergraduate physics courses is urgently needed. Students across physics, engineering, and other scientific and technical disciplines will greatly benefit from this project, as it will impart invaluable marketable skills to those entering the technical workforce, and will provide superior preparation for post graduate study for those choosing to achieve advanced degrees.


The ultimate goals of the project are to positively affect the undergraduate physics curriculum by encouraging and enabling the integration of computation into undergraduate physics courses on a national scale, and to establish a large, sustainable community of physics faculty that is committed to integrating computation.


Our approach is based on the following guiding principles:
I. Lower barriers for faculty to begin integrating computation into their courses;
II. Respect institutional diversity and faculty autonomy;
III. Recognize that community is a crucial mechanism for sustainable transformation;
IV. Emphasize that multiple generations of faculty must be involved to change physics curricula.

At the heart of our approach, based on these principles, is a series of faculty development workshops, and an associated, multi-tiered post-workshop support program. At the workshops, we will endeavor to lower the barriers to integration of computation by encouraging faculty to either create their own computational exercises, or tailor existing ones to match their pedagogical interests and preferences. After the workshops, we will provide remote support for the workshop participants as they implement their computational plans and exercises into their courses.


Our project will focus on developing transportable, adaptable, and sustainable methods for infusing an instructional strategy into the undergraduate physics curriculum that places computer-based, algorithmic problem solving in a position that is coequal to traditional analytical mathematical methods. Our proposed framework for community building will serve as a case-study of the development of a community around new teaching practices relating to computational instruction. We will conduct a thorough research study of the effectiveness of our community building approach, as well as the degree to which integration of computation into undergraduate physics courses has increased. We believe our community building effort will serve as a model for other STEM disciplines to move forward, via the creation of focused sustainable communities, towards improving their respective curricula.

Broader Impacts

The Broader Impacts include the development of a sustainable community of physics faculty focusing on computation in undergraduate physics, and their influence on undergraduate physics programs and STEM student learning across the country. The research component and dissemination plan likewise ensure that the PICUP community will continue to grow not only in membership, but also in the large-scale assessment and implementation of best practices in undergraduate Physics education.

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