Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Graduate Quantum Mechanics Reform

So I've written a bit on revamping the undergraduate physics laboratory. I believe that many, if not most, of the studies on better teaching and presentation methods have been directed at introductory college, undergraduates, and high school students. We don't hear much about graduate programs that need revamping. I suppose one assume that students at that advanced level can mostly learn on their own even with unequipped instructors and teaching methods that aren't well-developed.

So it is a breath of fresh air that I came across this preprint that actually talked about reforming how graduate level QM is taught.

Abstract: We address four main areas in which graduate quantum mechanics education in the U.S. can be improved: course content; textbook; teaching methods; and assessment tools. We report on a three year longitudinal study at the Colorado School of Mines using innovations in all four of these areas. In particular, we have modified the content of the course to reflect progress in the field in the last 50 years, use modern textbooks that include such content, incorporate a variety of teaching techniques based on physics education research, and used a variety of assessment tools to study the effectiveness of these reforms. We present a new assessment tool, the Graduate Quantum Mechanics Conceptual Survey, and further testing of a previously developed assessment tool, the Quantum Mechanics Conceptual Survey (QMCS). We find that graduate students respond well to research-based techniques that have previously been tested mainly in introductory courses, and that they learn a great deal of the new content introduced in each version of the course. We also find that students' ability to answer conceptual questions about graduate quantum mechanics is highly correlated with their ability to solve calculational problems on the same topics. On the other hand, we find that students' understanding of basic undergraduate quantum mechanics concepts at the modern physics level is not improved by instruction at the graduate level.

It's an interesting reading, and I've gone through it only quickly. I plan on reading it some more when I have the time. In the meantime, why don't you take a whack at it? :)



Kent Leung said...

Graduate QM *shudder*. Why did you have to bring back the nightmares ZapperZ??!?!

Before I started learning QM in Dirac Notation, I have to say that when always dealing with the complete wavefunctions, the math was quite intimidating. Dirac notation is so much more intuitive for learning. Oh a good textbook helps as well. Mandle sucks. Sakurai rocks!

Doug Natelson said...

Thanks for pointing this out. Many many departments have problems with graduate quantum - it often ends up being largely a review for well-prepared students, and simultaneously baffling to poorly-prepared students.