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Competencies and Learning Profiles in Physics

This PhD study by Elizabeth Crilly, funded by the Ogden Trust, has explored the core competencies for ‘doing physics’ and examined the learning behaviours of those who have succeeded in Physics, to bring a positive and inclusive narrative to encourage an increased diverse uptake of physics.

  1. Elizabeth Crilly, Alison Voice and Samantha Pugh “Towards a new equality narrativePhysics World, June (2021)
  2. Elizabeth Crilly “Determination of a set of cognitive, procedural and learning competences owned by qualified physicists” PhD Thesis University of Leeds (2021)

Language and Culture in Peer Instruction

This is a PhD study by Rahma Al Harthi, funded by the Omani Government, to investigate the effect of language and culture on students’ learning and peer interactions in physics. It has great applicability to students everywhere learning in their non-native language.

  1. Rahma Al Harthi “Effect of Language on the effectiveness of Peer Instruction in Physics” Poster at VICEPHEC 2021

The Application of Bloom’s Taxonomy to Higher Education Examination Questions in Physics

Examination papers were analysed using a methodology based on Bloom’s Taxonomy to identify the cognitive skills required to complete questions and compare these to the cognition necessary for graduate skills. This research found that examinations access mainly mid to low-level cognition such as recall and apply, while competencies required by employers tend to need higher-level cognition such as synthesis and creation, which are not as commonly tested through examinations.

  1. Jess Gates and Samantha Pugh “The Application of Bloom’s Taxonomy to Higher Education Examination Questions in PhysicsNew Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences, Volume 16, Issue 1 (2021)

Spaced Repetition

Students need a sound knowledge of core material on which to draw when solving problems and to act as a platform for more advanced study.  The learning technique of spaced repetition has been investigated within a core first year module on Thermodynamics, demonstrating its benefit on exam performance in that module, and enhanced retention of knowledge after the summer vacation.

  1. Voice, A.M. and Stirton, A. “Spaced Repetition: towards more effective learning in STEMNew Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences, Volume 15, Issue 1 (2020)
  2. Alison Voice, Dave Riley and Susan Preston “Implementing Spaced Repetition” LITE Teaching Show (2021)

Understanding Chemistry in a Physics Context

A student intern created a resource to support those students without A-level chemistry that were taking a Physics degree. This resource was based on the relevant aspects of A-level chemistry courses, and was wholly authored by a 2nd year Physics student, Sukhjivan Sandhu, with direction provided by Dr Samantha Pugh. One of the best features of the resource being student-authored is that it is written in a different style to a standard text book. There is a much more informal and conversational tone, whilst simultaneously ensuring that there is rigour in the content. The resource was trialled with undergraduate students; it was highlighted as extremely valuable for those without A-level Chemistry, and an excellent recap for everyone else.

  1. Sukhjivan Sandhu and Samantha Pugh “Understanding Chemistry in a Physics Context” (2018)

Personality and Learning Among Physics Undergraduates

Extroversion, where people gain energy from their interactions with others, is highly valued in today’s western society. As a result many current teaching practices have evolved to promote interactive ‘constructivist’ ways of learning, for example group work, class discussions, peer reviews, presentations etc. Recent research has shown that these teaching styles can have a detrimental effect on introverted students, who are very reflective learners and find social interactions draining. This may result in introverted students being unable to demonstrate their true ability, or lead to them experiencing imposter phenomenon (as described previously).
There are several final year project students looking at introversion and learning styles among physics undergraduates, as well as the prevalence of imposter phenomenon among introverted students.

  1. Cochrane, E.C.A., Ces, L., Gardner, J., and Radcliffe, J. “Investigating ways of supporting introverted students within Higher Education” Student Education Conference, University of Leeds (2022).

Critical Thinking in the Physics Undergraduate Laboratory

In response to the recent pandemic a series of experimental tasks which students could perform at home were developed by the Laboratory staff in the School of Physics and Astronomy. In addition, a ‘Physics Kit’ was developed and given to all students studying Core Physics Module on the Science Foundation Years. This allowed students to use cheap and simple pieces of apparatus to develop experimental skills. A direct benefit to these ‘at home’ experiments was the introduction of critical thinking tasks such as experimental design and ways to minimise errors. These skills are often difficult to replicate in the Physics laboratory where the complex equipment is used and prescriptive laboratory manuals provided.
A final year project student is currently investigating the benefits and drawbacks of these home based experiments, and an MSc student is developing a lab based experiment to try to develop these skills in undergraduate students.

  1. Pittard, E.C.A., Forbes, L.J., Hine, P.J., and Maw, S.J., “Home Laboratories” Student Education Conference, University of Leeds (2021).

Digital Learning Resources

Students can find electromagnetism difficult to grasp, both conceptually and mathematically. Mike Ries has worked with a student intern to create an app that engages students and provides a deeper understanding of Maxwell’s equations.

  1. M.E. Ries  Maxwell’s Equations iOS app (2015)
  2. Matthew Horner and Mike Ries Vector Calculus for Electromagnetism
  3. Mike Ries Stelar FFC NMR
  4. Mike Ries NMR Tutorial


In 2018 the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations came into force which means that all public sector websites, including University websites and virtual learning environment, must be fully accessible from September 2020. While this legislation is hugely important it introduces many difficulties when producing teaching resources for STEM subjects. This presentation provided guidelines to help STEM practitioners meet baseline accessibility requirements and a summary of some current technologies available.

  1. Pittard, E.C.A., “Are Your Teaching Resources Accessible?”, Variety in Chemistry Education and Physics Higher Education Conference (ViCE-PHEC) (2020).

Physics into Schools

This UG module offers opportunities for students to undertake a placement in a local high school, to engage with staff and pupils, and to experience the teaching profession first-hand. The UGs also act as ambassadors to inspire the next generation of physics students.  In 2020 the Covid pandemic hit and students were not able to go into schools.  But that did not deter them and many fantastic online learning resources were created by our UGs.

  1. Anastasia de Clermont, Emma Jones, Sarah Norman and Alison Voice (2021)