Lilly 2012 Conference in Greensboro, NC -- Plenary Talk

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New ideas from Physics Education Research that could make you rethink your teaching and learning

An invited plenary address delivered to the Lilly Conference on College and University Teaching, Greensboro, NC on Feb 10, 2012.

Abstract: Way back in the 1900s, many powerful ideas that changed how we think about teaching originated in (or were accelerated by) the work of Physics Education Researchers: for example, the importance of attending to students’ prior conceptions and the superiority of active learning modes over traditional instruction. In the last decade, several new ideas have arisen and dramatically altered much of the discourse within the PER community. These ideas have great applicability beyond the domain of physics. One is the “knowledge in pieces” perspective, with a concomitant shift of focus from what students “know” to when and how they have access to their knowledge. A second is the subtlety and power of students’ social dynamics and senses of identity, with a shift from viewing learning as a predominantly individual, cognitive task to viewing it as a complex, socially constructed endeavor. A third idea is “authenticity” in the learning experience, with a shift from seeing students as “learners of content” to seeing them as “becoming practitioners” of a specific sort. A fourth is the effect of grading practices, with a shift from broad, indelible measures of aptitude towards fine-grained and evolving profiles of skills being mastered. Overall, these four shifts reveal a broad inversion in our thinking, as we flip from seeing students largely as objects that respond to our instruction to understanding them as idiosyncratic agents volitionally choosing and navigating their path through a complex learning landscape.


I would like to put together a conference paper containing these ideas, abundantly referenced, before the talk becomes a dim memory. Let’s see whether I manage that!