Open-source tutorials 

integrated with professional development materials

In this project, NSF Course Curriculum & Laboratory Improvement grant DUE-0341447, we refined and class tested open-source tutorials (worksheets intended to guide collaborative active learning) that instructors can customize to the needs of their students and curricula.  To help instructors make productive modifications and implement the tutorials effectively, we hyperlink the worksheets themselves to instructors’ guides and annotated video clips of students using the worksheets.

Materials are available at


     Excellent research-based physics tutorials and interactive lecture demonstrations already exist; the main bottleneck to reform is implementation. So why are we developing and class testing new materials as part of our current project?  Four reasons:

1.    Our worksheets are open-source, electronic documents; instructors can adapt them to their specific needs. 

2.      Those worksheets are hyperlinked to instructors' guides that include the rationale behind the various questions, teaching tips, common student responses, and so on. 

3.    The instructors' guides link to annotated video clips of students using the materials, clips that faculty and teaching assistants can use to get a feel for the activities and to practice "hearing" and interpreting students' reasoning and conceptions in a way that can improve their teaching.

4.    Our worksheets focus not just on conceptual development but also on helping students become more reflective about their learning and more sophisticated in their “epistemologies” — their views about the what it means to learn and understand physics.


Over the past 15 years, research-based physics curricula that engage students in “active learning” have proven successful at fostering conceptual change.  This project addresses two lingering problems associated with reform-oriented materials:

º   Implementation often goes poorly, or does not occur, in part because professors and teaching assistants have trouble adjusting their instructional styles to an active-learning format and integrating the new materials into their curricula.

º   Although the best implementations lead to large conceptual gains, evidence shows students continue to hold unfavorable views about the nature of physics knowledge and learning:  they see physics as disconnected facts and formulas, and learning as memorizing information provided by authority.  

We address both problems by building on work from two previous projects.  In one project, we developed worksheets — tutorials for discussion section and interactive demonstrations for lecture — that not only reproduced the conceptual gains of other research-based materials, but also improved students’ views about physics knowledge and learning.  In a second project, we used video clips of students engaged in active learning as a teacher-development tool; teachers become better at listening and responding to their students’ thinking, a key element of making active learning work.

Many curriculum developers strive for “high-fidelity” implementation of their materials.  This project takes another tack for two reasons.  First, research shows that teachers modify curricula no matter how hard developers try to prevent it.  Second, modifications can be productive if they adhere to the spirit of the original lesson but make adjustments based on a nuanced interpretation of students’ needs and progress.  Our instructors’ guides and annotated video clips clarify the spirit of the tutorials, and how they can well and not-so-well, to help instructors make productive modifications and implement the lessons effectively.