PHYS 598 PER :: Physics Illinois :: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Course Description

General overview

This class will overview some topics in Physics Education Research, with a focus on theories of learning and instructional design principles. The course is geared towards researchers and developing education research skills including reading, writing, instructional design, and argumentation (though topics will also be relevant for those interested in teaching). Because of this focus, this course will be structured more like an education course than a physics course – it will be reading, writing, and discussion intensive.

Making the course useful for you vs. "Doing School"

My overarching orientation to the course is to help you develop skills, background, and questions related to you own interests. This can includes: learning to make sense of research papers, developing a critical eye towards strengths and weaknesses of research, identifying and elaborating interesting questions, and developing your own intuitions about how educational theory can be applied in practice. We will learn about what has been done in education research, but the focus is to help you develop your ability to develop and follow up new research questions. As much as possible, I will try to find ways to make the course driven by your thinking and questions.

By contrast, there are many examples in education where students end up "doing school" and class participation, activities, and assignments become disconnected from students' own sensemaking and goals. I'm always worried about ending up in a "doing school" mode – which seems to happen whenever a grade gets assigned to people's thinking. I will attend to this throughout the course, and I invite you to monitor this for yourself during the class. If you ever feel like the course becomes disconnected from your own learning and development goals, please let me know so we can try to find ways to make the course more useful for you.

As much as possible, we should try to tune the course to be useful for you. For education research Ph.D. students, I invite you to consider how to connect the three projects in this course (interview, literature review, instructional design) to your current work and future interests. If you are currently working on a research project, I invite you to propose ways to make these course projects directly helpful for completing that research. If you are preparing to propose a (dissertation) project, I invite you to suggest ways in which these course projects can directly help develop those proposals. If you are currently teaching or considering teaching as a future career, I invite you to propose ways that these course projects can help you in your teaching. This class is not trying to create busy work.


Course Component Percent of Grade
In-class participation 20%
Weekly writing assignments 20%
Interview Project 20%
Literature Review Project 20%
Design + Test of Instructional Activity Project 20%

Final Grade Assignment Minimum course points
(out of 100 total)
A 80
B 60
C 40
D 20
F < 20


More info about each component will be shared as they occur in the course.

For the weekly writing assignments and three projects, feedback will be given, either from me or other students. Learning from feedback to improve your work is an important life skill, and it will be recognized and rewarded in this course.

Near the middle of the semester, each student will receive a "grade summary," which summarizes where their grade in the course is, and how you can improve.

Required Book

Schwartz, D. L., Tsang, J. M., & Blair, K. P. (2016). The ABCs of how we learn: 26 scientifically proven approaches, how they work, and when to use them. WW Norton & Company

There will be some reading assignments out of this book, along with reading research papers.  You won't have reading homework form this book until week 2. It should be available at the campus bookstore, though you might get a better price online.  

If you will miss class

Because much of the course is centered around class discussion, attending class is important. If you will miss class, please let me know (ahead of time, if possible). Since course participation is part of your grade, I'll work with you to find an alternative way to get credit for this.


Course Rules and Procedures

Anti-Racism and Inclusivity

The Grainger College of Engineering is committed to the creation of an anti-racist, inclusive community that welcomes diversity along a number of dimensions, including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity and national origins, gender and gender identity, sexuality, disability status, class, age, or religious beliefs. The College recognizes that we are learning together in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, that Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous voices and contributions have largely either been excluded from, or not recognized in, science and engineering, and that both overt racism and micro-aggressions threaten the well-being of our students and our university community.

The effectiveness of this course is dependent upon each of us to create a safe and encouraging learning environment that allows for the open exchange of ideas while also ensuring equitable opportunities and respect for all of us. Everyone is expected to help establish and maintain an environment where students, staff, and faculty can contribute without fear of personal ridicule, or intolerant or offensive language.

If you witness or experience racism, discrimination, micro-aggressions, or other offensive behavior, you are encouraged to bring this to the attention of the course director (Eric) if you feel comfortable. You can also report these behaviors to the Bias Assessment and Response Team (BART) ( Based on your report, BART members will follow up and reach out to students to make sure they have the support they need to be healthy and safe. If the reported behavior also violates university policy, staff in the Office for Student Conflict Resolution may respond as well and will take appropriate action.

COVID-19 Guidelines

If you ever have to make a choice between health/safety and physics, please choose health/safety. Don't come to class if you are sick. We have good policies for excused absenses and make-up work, so there is no penalty if you have to miss class because of illness. If you are facing challenges that go beyond these, please get in contact with me (Eric) and we'll work it out.

Academic integrity

All activities in this course are subject to the Academic Integrity rules as described in Article 1, Part 4, Academic Integrity, of the Student Code.

In particular, the giving of assistance to or receiving of unauthorized assistance from another person, or the use of unauthorized materials during University Examinations can be grounds for disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion from the University. Course grading will proceed in compliance with University policy.

Please be aware that prior to or during an examination the instructional staff may wish to rearrange the student seating. Such action does not mean that anyone is suspected of inappropriate behavior.

Religious Observances

Illinois law requires the University to reasonably accommodate its students' religious beliefs, observances, and practices in regard to admissions, class attendance, and the scheduling of examinations and work requirements. You should examine this syllabus at the beginning of the semester for potential conflicts between course deadlines and any of your religious observances. If a conflict exists, you should notify your instructor to request appropriate accommodations. This should be done in the first two weeks of classes.

Students with Disabilities

To obtain disability-related academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids, students with disabilities must contact the course instructor as soon as possible and provide the instructor with a Letter of Academic Accommodations from Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES). To ensure that disability-related concerns are properly addressed from the beginning, students with disabilities who require assistance to participate in this class should apply for services with DRES and see the instructor as soon as possible. If you need accommodations for any sort of disability, please speak to me after class, or make an appointment to see me or see me during my office hours. DRES provides students with academic accommodations, access, and support services. To contact DRES, you may visit 1207 S. Oak St., Champaign, call 217-333-1970, e-mail or visit the DRES website at Here is the direct link to apply for services at DRES,

Mental Health

We care about your mental health. Significant stress, mood changes, excessive worry, substance/alcohol misuse or interferences in eating or sleep can have an impact on academic performance, social development, and emotional wellbeing. The University of Illinois offers a variety of confidential services including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, psychiatric services, and specialized screenings which are covered through the Student Health Fee. If you or someone you know experiences any of the above mental health concerns, it is strongly encouraged to contact or visit any of the University’s resources provided below. Getting help is a smart and courageous thing to do for yourself and for those who care about you. 

If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

Community of Care

As members of the Illinois community, we each have a responsibility to express care and concern for one another. If you come across a classmate whose behavior concerns you, whether in regards to their well-being or yours, we encourage you to refer this behavior to the Student Assistance Center (217-333-0050 or Based on your report, the staff in the Student Assistance Center reaches out to students to make sure they have the support they need to be healthy and safe.

Further, as a Community of Care, we want to support you in your overall wellness. We know that students sometimes face challenges that can impact academic performance (examples include mental health concerns, food insecurity, homelessness, personal emergencies). Should you find that you are managing such a challenge and that it is interfering with your coursework, you are encouraged to contact the Student Assistance Center (SAC) in the Office of the Dean of Students for support and referrals to campus and/or community resources. 

Sexual Misconduct Reporting Obligation

The University of Illinois is committed to combating sexual misconduct. Faculty and staff members are required to report any instances of sexual misconduct to the University’s Title IX Office. In turn, an individual with the Title IX Office will provide information about rights and options, including accommodations, support services, the campus disciplinary process, and law enforcement options.

A list of the designated University employees who, as counselors, confidential advisors, and medical professionals, do not have this reporting responsibility and can maintain confidentiality, can be found here:

Other information about resources and reporting is available here:

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

Any student who has suppressed their directory information pursuant to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) should self-identify to the instructor to ensure protection of the privacy of their attendance in this course. See for more information on FERPA.

Safety Announcements

The University of Illinois is a safe place to live and learn. However, the university has guidance for what to do in an emergency classroom situation that you can see at the following links: and Emergency Response Recommendations.