Physics because it is not a curriculum. Instead, it is a pedagogical approach and a classroom structure.

The first studio physics course was established at RPI in 1993. By 2008, all introductory physics courses at RPI were studio courses. Cummings said that there are 15 to 20 sections of studio physics at RPI every semester, and each section contains approximately 50 students.

In one evaluation, Cummings compared a traditional lecture course with two forms of the studio course, one of which incorporated interactive lecture demonstrations and cooperative problem solving that was shown to be effective in previous research. Studying 10 sections of approximately 50 students each, she used student surveys, students’ formal course evaluations, and validated instruments to measure conceptual learning outcomes and attitudinal outcomes. The students were divided into two groups: standard studio and “studio plus” (the studio that incorporated the lecture demonstrations and cooperative problem solving). Both groups did the same homework, saw the same lectures, took the same exams, and had the same classrooms. The only difference was that studio plus incorporated research-based curricular materials.

The standard studio course was more efficient than the traditional lecture because lecture and laboratory time was combined, but no more effective in terms of learning outcomes (Cummings, 2008). When instructors incorporated research-based curricular materials, however, students at all levels made significant improvements on the force concept inventory and its associated attitudinal survey. In Cummings’s view, these data suggest that the studio format alone is not sufficient to improve students’ conceptual understanding.

Cummings also described an introductory biology course at RPI that blends a studio-style course with a web-based learning activity that students can pursue outside the time and space constraints of the classroom (asynchronous learning). To evaluate this course, McDaniel and colleagues (2007) administered a survey that assessed knowledge of biological concepts to students in a standard lecture course and the studio course with the asynchronous component. They measured normalized gains, or the ratio of how much students learned compared with how much room they had to learn based on their pretest scores.1 Students in the studio course performed significantly better in ecology and evolution than students in the traditional biology lecture course.

Studio courses are expensive to implement. As a result, instructors at many institutions are implementing less expensive hybrid models. With these


As defined by Hake (1998), normalized gain = (posttest – pretest)/(100 – pretest). For example, students who score 80 on the pretest and 90 on the posttest gain only 10 percentage points, but those 10 percentage points represent half of what they did not know.

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