Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

Learning and Teaching Undergraduate Physics

February 15, 2006

"The department is the critical unit for change in undergraduate education."

This claim introduces the "SPIN-UP" report prepared by the three leading societies for the physics community: the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT): the American Physical Society (APS): and the American Institute of Physics (AIP).

Why do they make this claim? What are the insights and lessons learned from their report that can advance efforts of leaders across the wide range of STEM disciplines, particularly leaders with responsibility for ensuring student learning at the level of department or program is of the highest quality?

One important insight from the work of the SPIN-UP review is that "amidst the general decline in the number of undergraduate physics majors, a significant number of physics departments either increased substantially the number of majors in their undergraduate programs or maintained a number of majors that kept them in the top 10% or so of departments with large numbers of majors."

We present their characteristics of a thriving department in the PKAL Report on Reports II, 2006, as a check list from which leaders of departments in all disciplines (and leaders of interdisciplinary programs) can analyze and evaluate programs for which they are responsible. To inform that analysis, we invite you to examine their entire report, giving special attention to the case studies presented in Appendix VIII.

The general comments in the report introduction document the importance of leadership in building and sustaining a thriving department. Roles and responsibilities of departmental leaders have been a key issue on the table for PKAL events for many years, and we present also an essay about the roles and responsibilities of senior academic administrators summarizing some central ideas from PKAL about leadership at the level of department and programs.