April 5, 2023 Issue #5

SPOTLIGHT is the OPTYCs bi-weekly newsletter. It brings you OPTYCs activity updates, highlights from recent publications related to physics education, and news & resources for Two-Year colleges.


Upcoming events

  • Workshop: Interactive Video-Enhanced Tutorials (IVET)  April 22, 2023. In this workshop, you will learn about the underlying design for the IVETs, a brief overview of the research findings that demonstrate their effectiveness, and you will have the opportunity to work through several examples
  • Mini-workshop: Using Data Explorer to Analyze FCI Data. April 28, 2023. Participants will learn how to take advantage of  PhysPort’s Data Explorer to analyze data from the Force Concept Inventory and similar assessment tools. 
  • Workshop: Embedding Equity-Mindedness in Physics Questions May 12, 2023. In this 1-hour workshop, you will see how equity-based questions can be asked in your physics classes. Participants will see some examples and have the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss other physics topics where equity-based questions can be asked. 
  • Workshop: Kinematics-Spreadsheets 2023  May 20, 2023.  Are you interested in introducing computational ideas into your introductory physics class? Join us for this virthree-hour workshop on teaching kinematics using spreadsheets! During this workshop, you'll be introduced to computational tools available in spreadsheets, and work on creating and/or modifying examples for your own use. This workshop is a collaboration between PICUP and OPTYCs.


  • AAPT-TYC Tandem Conference. Saturday, July 15, 2023 Sacramento, CA, AAPT National Summer Meeting. A one-day event that brings together faculty teaching physics, astronomy, and physical science at two-year colleges to share ideas, learn from each other, and build community.
    Poster Abstracts will be accepted until April 14, 2023.

Recent OPTYCs events

  • Friday March 31, 2023: A discussion of mechanics and E & M assessment tools with Dwain Desbien and David Maloney

Kris’ corner

Tips, summaries, and musings from Kris Lui (OPTYCs Director)

From What the Best College Teachers Do

By Ken Bain, Harvard University Press (2004)

Quotes for your syllabus:

“What you bring to this class is yourself and your desire to participate, and what you do in here depends finally upon that.”

“The decision to take the course is yours, but once you make that decision, you have responsibilities to everyone else in this community of learners.” 

 “You have to be confused before you can reach a new level of understanding.”

About deadlines: “If you need someone to threaten you if you don’t make good progress, then I’m prepared to do that, but take control of your own life.”


GPT-4 scores 28/30 on the FCI

A couple of recent articles studied the performance of ChatGPT and its successor, GPT-4, in introductory physics. Gerd Kortemeyer of ETH Zurich asks Could an Artificial-Intelligence agent pass an introductory physics course?  while Colin G. West of the University of Colorado, Boulder reports on Advances in apparent conceptual physics reasoning in GPT-4. Both authors administered adapted versions of the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) to ChatGPT which resulted in scores of 18/30 (Kortmeyer) and 15/30 (West). In his study Kortmeyer also asked ChatGPT to answer clicker questions, complete programming exercises in VPython, and take the midterm and final exams from first and second semester introductory physics. He concludes that “ChatGPT would have achieved a 1.5-grade in a standard introductory physics lecture-course series; good enough for course credit, but lower than the grade-point average required for graduating with a bachelor degree” For his study, West compared the performances of GPT-3.5, the version used by ChatGPT to the performances of GPT-4 the version of the software that was made publicly available after March 16th. A significant jump occurs with GPT-4 answering 28 questions correctly on the FCI. Both authors discuss the implications this could have on the future of physics education. In West’s words “GPT-4 raises questions also about what we are teaching our students in these classes, and why. Like an integral table in the age of Maple and Mathematica, much of our current curricula may be misaligned with a future in which physicists solve problems through innovative prompting and dialog with an AI system.” 

From Kortmeyer:

Books & Articles

“They Helped Me to Get Through”: Investigating Institutional Sources of Support at Two-Year Colleges that Facilitate the Transfer and Persistence of Black Engineering Students Findings include evidence of important connections with faculty at 2-year colleges, such as positive engagement with them inside the classroom, as well as during office hours and general advising. NB: The article may be accessed through institutional subscriptions

Predicting community college astronomy performance through logistic regression: The results imply a greater focus on mathematics preparation and performance may mediate astronomy outcomes for community college students.

Math's pedagogical curse: A lecture given by Grant Sanderson from the popular YouTube math channel 3Blue1Brown asking “What steps can the math community make to improve its communication?”



The work of OPTYCs is supported by NSF-DUE-2212807.