Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Physics Education Research (PER) Could Use More PR

Some blog followers might be interested in “Physics Education Research (PER) Could Use More PR” [Hake (2011)]. The abstract reads:

ABSTRACT: PhysLrnR’s Bill Goffe wrote (paraphrasing): “PHYSICS EDUCATION RESEARCH (PER) COULD USE MORE PR. In the last year I've only seen PER in the popular press twice: (1) a slew of reports on ‘Improved Learning in a Large Enrollment Physics Class’ [Deslauriers, Schelew, and Wieman (2011), and (2) ‘Don't Lecture Me’ broadcast on local NPR stations. As I understand it, JOURNALISTS DON'T SO MUCH READ THE SCIENTIFIC LITERATURE (OR LISTSERVS!) BUT GET IDEAS PITCHED TO THEM. I would bet that an awful lot of pitching was done for Deslauriers et al. - it suddenly appeared in numerous publications. It would seem that more needs to be done along these lines."

Among the reports on Deslauriers et al. were: (a) “Study: It’s not teacher, but method that matters” [Borenstein (2011)] in the Associated Press; (b) “Less Talk, More Action: Improving Science Learning” [Carey (2010)] in the New York Times; (c) “An Alternative Vote: Applying Science to the Teaching of Science” in The Economist (2011)]; (d) “A Better Way to Teach?” [Mervis (2011)] in ScienceNOW; (e) “The Worst Way to Teach” [Bressoud 2011a)]; and (f) “The Best Way to Learn” [Bressoud 2011b)]; the last two in the Lauchings Column of the Mathematical Association of America.

Consistent with Goffe’s idea that PER needs more PR, the non-physicists Daniel Willingham and James Stigler interviewed by Carey (2011); and Jere Confrey interviewed by Mervis (2011) revealed no acquaintance with any physics education research other than Deslauriers et al., even despite many references to such research in: (1) Deslauriers et al. (2011); and (2) many articles dating back to 2001 in influential journals including Science.

Unfortunately, the two examples of PER in the popular press cited above by Goffe both contain substantive errors: (a) Deslauriers et al. erroneously claim that “As reviewed by Froyd (2007) other science and engineering classroom studies report effect sizes less than 1.0”; (b) David Hestenes at in the “Don't Lecture Me” broadcast, erroneously states “. . .Eric Mazur was unusual. He was the first one who took it. . . . .[[Halloun & Hestenes (1985a)]]. . . . to heart.”

To access the complete 25 kB post please click on

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
Honorary Member, Curmudgeon Lodge of Deventer, The Netherlands
President, PEdants for Definitive Academic References
which Recognize the Invention of the Internet (PEDARRII)
Links to Articles:
Links to SDI Labs:

“There is substantial evidence that scientific teaching in the sciences, i.e., teaching that employs instructional strategies that encourage undergraduates to become actively engaged in their own learning, can produce levels of understanding, retention and transfer of knowledge that are greater than those resulting from traditional lecture/lab classes. But widespread acceptance by university faculty of new pedagogies and curricular materials still lies in the future.”
Robert DeHaan (2005) in “The Impending Revolution in Undergraduate Science Education”

REFERENCES [All URL's shortened by and accessed on 7 Dec 2011.]
DeHaan, R.L. 2005. “The Impending Revolution in Undergraduate Science Education,” Journal of Science Education and Technology 14(2): 253-269; online as a 152 kB pdf at

Hake, R.R. 2011. “Physics Education Research (PER) Could Use More PR,”online on the OPEN! AERA-L archives at Post of 7 Dec 2011 13:45:18-0800 to AERA-L and Net-Gold. The abstract and link to the complete post are being transmitted to several discussion lists.

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