Physics education research
People have done research into the best methods for teaching physics ever since physics has been taught to students. However, the establishment of physics education research as a popular and increasingly important subfield within physics has progressed rapidly in the last 25 years.
Physics education research encompasses the study of classroom techniques such as peer instruction (commonly referred to as “clickers”) and just-in-time teaching, learning activities such as homework , tutorials, and interactive applets, and more fundamental theories of learning such as constructivism and cognitive load theory. Common themes of physics education research have been comparisons of the effectiveness of learning concepts versus learning how to work through and solve equations, active learning techniques versus lecture-based teaching, and online versus written homework.
While qualitative and anecdotal data is often used in physics education research, one of the keys factors in the growth of the field has been the development of commonly-accepted assessments for measuring qualities like conceptual understanding, scientific reasoning, and student attitudes towards science. The Force Concept Inventory, which is used to assess learning in introductory mechanics courses, was one of the first of these assessments to be developed, and it is still widely used today. Other commonly used assessments are the Classroom Test of Scientific Reasoning and the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey. These assessments allow physics education researchers to compare learning and teaching techniques for a variety of different students in a variety of different learning environments, though some researchers have questioned how they are used.
While physics education researchers in the past typically had a background in more traditional physics research areas, it is becoming more common nowadays for researchers to be trained specifically in physics education research. A number of universities now offer physics education research as a research option in their physics or education graduate programs.