Students are frequently resistant to new teaching ideas because of uncertainty and the perception that they will have to do more work. Some are wary of group work or of methods in which they may not be told the answers but are expected to determine them by themselves. By focusing on the scientific basis for the pedagogy being used, faculty can show students that the same type of reasoning was applied to the way they are learning as is applied to the science concepts that they are learning. Thus, an instructor can clearly explain to students what is expected from them and how evidence shows that this type of instruction improves learning.


Any useful discussion of undergraduate education must begin by making it clear what it is that colleges are trying to achieve.

—Bok (2006, p. 57)

Key Recommendation B. Department leadership should create a culture of continuous improvement in which educational innovation is encouraged, sustained when it succeeds, and tolerated when it fails.

In order for any changes in a department’s educational program to benefit the department and its students—and indeed for these changes to be more than ephemeral—department leadership should support and enable this as an ongoing process. Research indicates that leadership that emphasizes teaching and manages it collaboratively with faculty correlates positively with teaching that is focused on students and their understanding (Ramsden et al., 2007).

Department leadership should act to foster a culture that encourages evidence-based instructional changes and a collective approach toward improving the overall physics program. Creating this culture requires facilitating an ongoing discussion among key players in the department that acknowledges the mission of the institution, academic unit, and department.

Detailed Recommendations for Physics Department Leadership

Recommendation B1. Departmental leadership should review and implement appropriate ideas from relevant reports.


1 Note that “department leadership” is used in this section to indicate the chair or head of the physics department, or of the physics and astronomy department, the head of the science faculty unit, and so on.

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