PhysPort: Supporting physics teaching with research-based resources

Project No.
PI Name
Sarah McKagan
American Association of Physics Teachers


Abstract 1

PhysPort: Supporting physics teaching with research-based resources

Presentation Type
Sarah McKagan, American Association of Physics Teachers Bruce Mason, University of Oklahoma Beth Cunningham, American Association of Physics Teachers


PhysPort ( is a website that supports physics faculty in implementing research-based teaching practices in their classrooms, by providing expert recommendations about teaching methods, assessment, and results from physics education research (PER). Work in PER has produced a variety of tools that vastly improve student learning of physics, and that have been adopted and adapted for education in other STEM fields. However, research on faculty change has found that even educators who know about PER and are highly motivated to improve their teaching have trouble getting the support they need to implement PER-based teaching effectively. PhysPort fills this gap. This project develops PhysPort's resources around research-based assessment. It directly benefits physics faculty at diverse institutions nationwide, and indirectly their students. PhysPort has about 3000 unique regular visitors annually, which is about one-third of the total number of physics faculty in the US.


Our goals is for PhysPort to become a one-stop shopping place for ordinary physics faculty to find resources for research-based teaching and assessment. First released in 2011 as the PER User's Guide, PhysPort has undergone re-branding, redesign, and expansion, including many new resources: overviews of over 50 research-based teaching methods and over 40 research-based assessment instruments, Expert Recommendations, the Virtual New Faculty Workshop, the Periscope collection of video-based TA training and faculty professional development materials, and the Assessment Data Explorer, an interactive tool for faculty to get instant analysis and visualization of their studentsメ responses to research-based assessment instruments including the FCI, BEMA, and CLASS, and compare their results to national averages and students like theirs.


Our design perspective is centered around discovering and meeting the needs of real users. Towards that end, we interviewed physics faculty and department chairs about their perceived assessment needs using semi-structured interview protocols, then conducted a phenomenographic analysis to discover categories of need. These categories were blended into personas: person-like constructs to aid in design decisions. After the discovery, design, and initial development phases, we conduct supervised usability testing with real users in order to test our designs and suggest changes or additions.


We have conducted usability testing, created new designs for the site, and implemented the following aspects of the new designs: a new home page and site navigation structure (, a new section of the site on Assessment (, a new section of the site on Workshops ( including the Periscope Collection ( and the Virtual New Faculty Workshop (, and videos about Tutorials in Introductory Physics ( Our new Assessment Data Explorer ( is mostly developed, and will be released in closed beta next month.

Future projects include implementing the new teaching methods pages and Expert Recommendations, and completing the implementation of the Assessment Data Explorer.

Broader Impacts

Over 3000 unique regular visitors come to PhysPort annually, overwhelmingly on the pages developed for this project and a cognate project (Periscope). Our goal was to have 1500, so we have exceeded it.

We have presented workshops and talks at the New Faculty Workshop, the Physics Department Chairs Conference, the PhysTEC Site Leaders Meeting, AAPT National Meetings, and APS March and April meetings. We published/are publishing five peer-reviewed papers for audiences as diverse as physics faculty, physics education researchers, and learning scientists. PhysPort is a leading online professional development tool in the STEM disciplines and the findings from this project can serve as guideposts for researchers from these disciplines as they create their own professional development tools.

Unexpected Challenges

We ran into technical difficulties collecting video at the New Faculty Workshop and thus reduced the number of videos we produced for the Virtual New Faculty Workshop (


Madsen, A., McKagan, S. B., Martinuk, M. S., Bell, A., and Sayre, E., モResearch-based assessment affordances and constraints: Perceptions of physics faculty?ヤ Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. (in press).

Madsen, A., McKagan, S. B., and Sayre, E, モHow physics instruction impacts students' beliefs about learning physics: A meta-analysis of 24 studiesヤ, Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 11, 010115 (2015)

Madsen, A., Martinuk, M., Bell, A., McKagan, S. B., and Sayre, E , モPersonas as a Powerful Methodology to Design Targeted Professional Development Resourcesヤ, pp. 1082-1086 in Polman, J. L., Kyza, E. A., O'Neill, D. K., Tabak, I., Penuel, W. R., Jurow, A. S., O'Connor, K., Lee, T., and D'Amico, L. (Eds.). (2014). Learning and becoming in practice: The International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS) 2014, Volume 2. Boulder, CO: International Society of the Learning Sciences.

Madsen, A., McKagan, S. B., and Sayre, E, モGender gap on concept inventories in physics: what is consistent, what is inconsistent and what factors influence the gap?ヤ Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 9, 020121 (2013)

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