Richard T. Jones, Associate Prof. of Physics, University of Connecticut,

Education and Outreach

Pursuing a science degree at a research university offers students the opportunity to enhance the education they receive in the classroom with direct research experience, working together with faculty, postdocs and other students on ongoing research projects. In addition to the citation that they receive for their work, they also gain an appreciation for the way scientific research is carried out. For some the experience they receive will lay the foundation for a career in science. For all the experience contributes to their development as informed participants in a society where the priorities and funding of scientific research is an important public issue.

Use of MultiMedia in teaching introductory physics

Traditional lectures in physics courses involve a lot of time spent with the instructor writing on the board or overhead and students transcribing formulas into their notebooks, with occasional interactions between the speaker and the audience or vice versa. It is rare in this context that productive interactions between the students themselves occur in class. The question arises, can multi-media be used in lectures to facilitate the presentation of core concepts and enable the use of peer-instruction in teaching applications?

At the University of Illinois (Urbana) a team of faculty lead by Prof. Gary Gladding has developed some multi-media tools that seek to incorporate effective interactions between students into introductory physics lectures. For more details on that development, see the Physics Education Research web page at UIUC. In 1999 I undertook to implement their method in our Physics 131/132 course. That year I adapted a complete set of lectures in PowerPoint format, that incorporated interactive sessions during class known as ACTs. Each ACT consists of a conceptual problem that asks students to apply the core concepts that have just been presented. Students work in teams and then report their results as a group. Approximately 15 minutes of each 50-minute are devoted to ACTs. Based on experience learned during that initial round, I updated the method and taught the sequence again in 2000. Spring semester 2002 I adapted the method to Physics 151 (Physics for Engineers) based on two 75-minute lectures per week.

Systematic reform of general physics courses

A major revision of the way that physics is taught at the undergraduate level is underway at universities across North America. A series of workshops funded by the National Science Foundation bring together a significant fraction of all new faculty at American research universities each year to expose them to these developments and put the tools in their hands. I attended the workshop in October 1997, and gave a Journal Club lecture in summary of what I learned. In the year 2000 the department is implementing interactive small-group problem solving methods into the introductory physics sequence for physics majors. Plans are underway to expand this innovative approach to the larger courses for non-majors in 2001.

Summer research for undergraduates

Each summer our department hosts a group of junior physics majors from all over the U.S.A. under the REU program from the National Science Foundation. Each summer I work with one REU student on a research project related to one of the experiments we are carrying out at Jefferson Lab. For a list of participants and projects over the last few years, click on the Students link below.


With present trends in higher education turning towards a more active role for the student in the learning process, undergraduate research is being actively promoted at the University of Connecticut. The following opportunities await the ambitious student who wants to ``get a jump on the competition'' and lay a foundation for a career in science or technology.

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