Friday, February 05, 2010

Teaching and Understanding of Quantum Interpretations in Modern Physics Courses

We all know that teachers and instructors can have a profound influence in the way a student not only understands a subject, but also how he/she thinks about how to view something. This notion is further reinforced by this study on how students interpret the complexity of quantum mechanics. {Note that you can get full access to the paper}

Abstract: Just as expert physicists vary in their personal stances on interpretation in quantum mechanics, instructors vary on whether and how to teach interpretations of quantum phenomena in introductory modern physics courses. In this paper, we document variations in instructional approaches with respect to interpretation in two similar modern physics courses recently taught at the University of Colorado, and examine associated impacts on student perspectives regarding quantum physics. We find students are more likely to prefer realist interpretations of quantum-mechanical systems when instructors are less explicit in addressing student ontologies. We also observe contextual variations in student beliefs about quantum systems, indicating that instructors who choose to address questions of ontology in quantum mechanics should do so explicitly across a range of topics.

It appears that if the students were left to their own devices, i.e. the instructor made no explicit interpretation, they tended to adopt a realist view of QM.

I've yet to read this paper fully and more closely (hey, I have a lot of things to do this week! :)). But you're welcome to it. If you are, or have been, an instructor in a similar class, I would be very interested to hear what you have to say, and especially on your approach for such a class.


1 comment:

Allison said...

That was a really interesting article, and made me try to think back to my own early physics instruction. What was interesting to me was that the agnostic professors, who let the students decide for themselves, ended up with many students taking a realist interpretation. What's ironic is that the agnostic professor seemed to think that emphasizing the weirdness of quantum mechanics would only confuse the students, when in fact those students ended up more confused (or at least misguided). In order to make students fully grasp the oddity that is QM, it had to be explicitly taught.