2021059: Measuring Learning and Improving Teaching of the Physics of Fluids in IPLS Courses

Rebecca Lindell
Primary Investiger
American association of physics teachers

Need for this project: Beginning in 2003, there have been numerous national calls for improvement of the education of biologists and health professionals [CUBE 2003, AAMC 2009, AAAS 2011]. Several members of the Physics Education community heeded these calls and began to reform the year-long introductory course for life science students (IPLS). While much work has been done in supporting IPLS reforms, there are still multiple areas lacking.

This project focuses on one of these areas: teaching of fluids within the IPLS course, an essential topic for life science students according to biologists and health professionals, but not thoroughly researched and developed to date. Specifically the goals of this project are to 1) research and develop support materials for the teaching of fluids, specifically the development of a research-based two-tier Fluids Conceptual Evaluation designed to not only allow instructors to measure the efficacy of their reform efforts, but also to help them diagnose specific difficulties their students have with fluids concepts; and 2) research why fluids is not always taught in IPLS courses, or is not taught as deeply as it could be.

Guiding Research Questions: The following research questions have guided this project over the last year and a half.

  1. Will utilizing a truly representation of the diverse US IPLS student population, yield a large enough sample to evaluate fairness, reliability and validity of the FCE instrument for this diverse population of students?
  2. By utilizing Rasch Analysis, will we be able to produce multiple versions of the FCE that are fair, reliable and valid as well as statistically identical?
  3. Could virtual zoom interviews duplicate the quality of information typically obtained from in-person interviews?
  4. What difficulties to students have when approaching different aspects of the Fluids Concept? And does this vary for demographic variables?

Expected Outcomes: By meeting the goals of this project, we hope to increase both the number of instructors teaching fluids utilizing authentic biological systems and increase the essential knowledge base of students going into life science careers. In addition, the development of an FCE will provide an assessment tool for instructors of these students, helping them to measure the efficacy of their instruction related to fluids as well as diagnosing students’ difficulties with the concept of fluids. In addition, we hope to better understand why some institutions to not include the teaching of fluids within their IPLS courses.

Broader Impacts: Over 100,000 students graduate each year with degrees in the biological sciences; representative of the diverse population of students. Most of these students take an introductory physics course as part of their degree program. This project also focuses on broadening participation of under-represented groups in STEM by including a more diverse representative set of students from around the country, we will be taking the first steps to ensure that this assessment is valid and reliable measure of understanding for that diverse set of students. By establishing fairness this instrument, we will be making our assessment more equitable than is currently standard practice.


Dawn Meredith, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH; James Vesenka; University of New England, Biddeford, ME; DJ Wagner, Grove City College, Grove City, PA; Daniel Young, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC