Physics Education Research and Development

The primary aim of Physics Education Research and Development (PERD) is to first determine the difficulties students have in their understanding of topics in physics. The second aim is to develop curricula to address these difficulties. The logical follow up is to determine if these new instructional methods are actually better than other teaching methods.

To interested students/faculty:

If you have any interest in any of these projects, feel free to contact me. If you are a student looking for a research project that is similar to one of these projects let me know.

PERD Research Interests for Rhett Allain:

WebAssign - a web-based homework delivery system. WebAssign, in its simplest form, delivers numerical and multiple choice questions to students. When the assignment is submitted, it is automatically graded. The student then has the option to resubmit to correct missed questions. The primary advantages of WebAssign are:

SCALE-UP - (Student-Centered Activities for Large Enrollment University Programs). This is a project initiated at North Carolina State University that aims to bring student-centered, active-learning activities to the introductory physics classroom. It has been found that students learn best when they are actively engaged in the material rather than passively listening to a lecture. Some features of the SCALE-UP format are:

Peer Evaluation - The primary goal of peer evaluation is to bring students to a higher level of critical thinking. In peer evaluation, all students in a class will answer an essay question pertaining to physics. After all the essays have been collected (by various means), each student will receive a sub-set of essays from other students. The students will then evaluate these essays. Why do this? Well, the highest level of critical thinking is that of evaluation. That is, determining what makes a good essay and what makes a bad essay. The outcome is that students will become better writers (communicators) themselves as well as further explore the concepts in physics.


Math Skills - It is common knowledge that students have difficulties with physics. One possible source of their difficulties in the physics course is their lack of appropriate skills in math. The goal of this project is two fold, first look for direct evidence that links students' math skills to their success in the physics course. The second goal is to make students aware of their own math skills so that they can properly prepare for their introductory physics course. This project is really a generalization of my dissertation research - which investigated the relationship between student difficulties with the concept of electric potential and their difficulties with rate of change.

Select Publications and Talks

Investigating the Relationship Between Student Difficulties with the Concept of Electric Potential and the Concept of Rate of Change, Doctoral Dissertation, 2001 (Advisor: Robert J. Beichner)

R. Allain, R. Beichner "Student difficulties with electric potential and rate of change" Presented at the winter meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers, Jan 2001, San Diego, CA.

M. Dancy, R. Allain "Web-Based Assessment" , Invited talk presented at the winter meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers, Jan 2001, San Diego, CA.

R. Allain, D. Deardorff, and R. Beichner "Using Peer Evaluation to Enhance Student Writing" Presented at the winter meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers, Jan 2000, San Antonio, TX.

R. Allain "How to Implement Peer Ranking with WebAssign" - online instructions for implementing peer ranking with WebAssign

R. Allain "Peer Ranking with WebAssign" an overview of peer ranking with WebAssign. Presented at the WebAssign User Group meeting, May 2000