University of Minnesota

Physics Education Research and Development Group

Engineering Faculty Survey:


In the Spring of 1995, our group conducted a survey of the engineering faculty at the University of Minnesota. The purpose of the survey was to learn about our engineering faculty's reasons for requiring physics for their students, goals for our course, topics we might want to teach, and how best to teach them. What follows on this page is a summary of slides as presented at the Summer AAPT meeting in Spokane. If you have any comments, please let us know.

PDF versions:

Download a PDF version (get Acrobat Reader) of the article submitted to JPER

Download a PDF version (get Acrobat Reader) of the survey

Rationale for survey

  • Currently improving the introductory calculus-based physics course
  • Constraints: 1600-2000 students per quarter
  • 8 different sections taught by 8 different instructors
  • Only 5% of these students want to be physics majors

Engineering and Science Department Sizes

Department % of Graduates
Mechanical Eng. 31%
Electrical Eng. 18%
Civil Eng. 14%
Chemical Eng. 11%
Computer Sci. 11%
Mathematics 4%
Chemistry 4%
Material Sci. 1%
Agricultural Eng. 1%
Geology 1%
Astrophysics 1%

Survey Information

  • Faculty respondents chosen by the directors of undergraduate studies within each department.
  • Response rate was 67.6%
  • Responses analyzed with two models:

    • House of Representative: Responses scaled according to dept. size

    • Senate: Each dept.'s responses were weight equally
  • If the two models agree then we know that there is consistency between depts.


The following tables give the results of the survey. First the question as asked is stated, followed by a table of the results. Both the House of Representative [HoR] and the Senate [Sen] models are represented in the results.


"Many different goals could be addresses through this course. Would you please rate each of the following goals in relation to its importance for your students on a scale of 1 to 5 - 1=unimportant ... 5=very important
* Also, please star the two goals that are most important for your students"

HoR Sen. Star Goal
4.5 4.7   Solve problems using general qualitative logical reasoning within the context of physics
4.5 4.7 * Know the basic principles behind all physics (e.g. forces, conservation of energy, ...)
4.4 4.6   Solve problems using general quantitative problem solving skills within the context of physics
4.2 4.5   Apply the physics topics covered to new situations not explicitly taught by the course.
4.2 4.1   Use with confidence the physics topics covered.
3.9 4.3 * Know the range of applicability of the principles of physics (e.g. conservation of energy applied to fluid flow, heat transfer, plasmas, ...)

Topics by Chapters

The responding faculty were asked to select the number of weeks that should be spent on each topic. The total number of weeks should total 24. They were also asked to star (*) the four most important chapters for their students

The most important topics by the percent of stars received:

HoR Sen. Topic
80 85 Forces and Newton's laws
64 63 Potential energy and Cons. of Energy
32 13 Statics
32 26 Application of Newton's laws
28 26 Units, dimensions, vectors
24 15 Kinetic energy and Work
24 22 Simple harmonic motion
16 6 DC circuits
12 22 Waves
12 16 Superposition and Interference of waves

[The reader should notice the remarkable consistency in the results between models, except in the cases of DC circuits and Waves.]

The topics that did not recieve any 'stars' from the respondants:

linear motion; momentum and collisions; angular momentum; molecules and gases; electric potential; capacitors and dielectrics; currents in materials; Faraday's law, magnetism and matter; magnetic inductance; AC circuits

Laboratory Structure:

"The laboratory associated with this course is typically taught by graduate teaching assistants and could be structured in several ways.

HoR Sen. Laboratory Structure
36 32 A lab with well defined directions which verifies a physical principle previously explained to the students using the given apparatus.
27 38 A lab where the students are given a specific question or problem for which they must conduct an experiment with minimal guidance using the given apparatus. [What we are trying at University of Minnesota]
10 13 A lab where the students are given a general concept from which they must formulate an experimental question, then design and conduct an experiment from a choice of apparatus.
27 16 Other. Please describe." [These did not change the above percentages]

Recitation Structure

"The recitation sections associated with this course are typically taught by graduate teaching assistants and could be structured in several ways.

HoR Sen. Discussion Sections
7 6 Students ask the instructor to solve specific homework problems on the board.
15 15 Instructor asks students to solve specific homework problems on the board.
12 15 Instructor asks students to solve unfamiliar textbook problems, then discusses solution with class.
43 51 Students work in small collaborative groups to solve real-world problems with the guidance of the instructor.[What we are trying at Univ. of Minn.]
23 13 Other. Please describe.[These actually add to the above % for the last choice]


  1. There is consensus among our engineering departments about what they want to be taught and how:
    • Fundamental principle in depth - not topics covered lightly [goals]
    • Comprehensive problem solving [goals]
    • Collaborative learning [recitation structure]
    • Not inquiry labs [Lab structure]
  2. Our engineering faculty agree with the recommendation of many physics educators.
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  • Last modified on October 15, 2012