The Institute of Optics

News & Events


Physics education research for the laboratory classroom

Dr. Benjamin M. Zwickl, Rochester Institute of Technology

Monday, September 23, 2013
3:00 p.m.–4:30 p.m.
Sloan Auditorium

In the past decade, physics education research (PER) has provided significant benefits for teaching and learning in lecture classes, particularly at the introductory level.  Recently, more attention has been focused on improving laboratory courses as a means to increase students' preparation for graduate school and industrial research careers.  Within the context of this emerging focus on lab instruction, a short introduction to PER and the accompanying research methodology will be provided. Prior to joining RIT, much of my work at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) focused on students’ conceptual and quantitative reasoning in the laboratory, particularly on their use of models (mathematical, computational, etc.) as tools for communication and sense-making.  This work has resulted in a framework for using models in the laboratory, along with assessments and curricula that have been used in the CU undergraduate optics lab.  A second project, the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey for Experimental Physics (E-CLASS), is actively being used to assess students' views about doing experiments in the context of teaching labs and in professional research.  The survey, which has been given in over 50 lab classes across the US, gives insight into students' perception of the differences between doing "school science" and doing "real science."  The talk will conclude by describing new PER projects at RIT that will focus on laboratory courses, optics, and creating successful undergraduate research experiences.


Ben Zwickl joined the School of Physics and Astronomy at RIT in Fall 2013.  His research interest is physics education related to students’ development of experimental and research skills.  Prior to joining the faculty at RIT, Ben was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder in the research group of Heather Lewandowski (Physics/JILA) and Noah Finkelstein.  While at CU, Ben worked on a variety of lab-focused projects including developing consensus learning goals for the undergraduate lab curriculum, developing assessments for laboratory courses, writing lab curricula, and leading a course transformation of the optics and modern physics lab courses.  Ben completed his PhD at Yale University under the guidance of Jack Harris.  His thesis was on an attempt to measure the shot noise in radiation pressure acting on micromechanical membranes inside high-finesse optical cavities.