Kansas State University has one of the oldest active physics education research programs in the US. The first student to complete a graduate degree in this program was Jacqueline D. Spears. Her Masters degree was awarded in 1972 and her thesis work "Students attitudes toward science and society" appeared in American Journal of Physics in 1975.
In 1971 the KSU Physics Department took the pioneering step of advertising for and then hiring an Assistant Professor whose scholarly activities were to be research and development in physics education. Dr. Dean Zollman was selected and was appointed to a tenure-track position in the Summer of 1972. Shortly after joining the faculty Dr. Zollman attended the Film Loop Instructional Course (FLIC) which was directed by Dr. Robert Fuller at the University of Nebraska. The participation in that summer course began a long-term collaboration between Dr. Fuller and Dr. Zollman. This collaboration has focused on research and development related to the application of contemporary technology -- from Super 8mm film loops in 1972 to Internet video in 1998 -- in the learning and teaching of physics.
During the early years of the physics education program at K-State the focus was on learning and teaching in the instructional laboratory. In addition to developing and evaluating methods of teaching in the lab, Dr. Zollman and collaborators completed research on student learning. An early paper, which appeared in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching in 1977, investigated the influence of the level of structure in lab experiments on the students' understanding of the scientific process. Examples of other early work includes the development and assessment of a Teaching Assistant Orientation Program which was based on research in learning and intellectual development and instructional materials for visually impaired students.
In 1978 efforts were begun to address the needs of teachers. Prof. Zollman developed at physics course that was based on the Learning Cycle and that could accommodate a large number of students in one section. That course, which continues to be offered today, has been the subject of research on student learning.
At about the same time Professors Fuller and Zollman began exploring the use of interactive video, a new technology which was not yet on the commercial market. This collaboration resulted in the first commercially available science videodisc, the Puzzle of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which remains in print today. The instructional strategy implemented in this videodisc was based on research into students' intellectual development. The disc has also been used in several studies of the value of interactive video in learning physics.
In the mid-1980s the Physics Education group expanded when Tom Manney, Professor of Physics and Biology, became an active member. Dr. Manney's primary interests are to transfer recent research results in genetics and biophysics to the secondary and college classrooms. He has used his own research on genetics as a starting point to introduce teachers to the research and then have them involve their students in similar efforts. The result has been the Genetics Education NEtwork (GENE Project) which has developed interdisciplinary teaching-learning materials and completed research on that teaching and learning.
Dr. Manney has recently retired, but the GENE Project continues to be active through the Web based materials, distribution of instructional materials by Carolina Biological and the efforts of the secondary and college teachers who have been part of the program.
Another effort which expanded in the late 1980s was development and research related to both pre-service and in-service teacher education. Dr. Manney and Dr. Zollman taught a course on modern physics for future teachers which became the basis for the Visual Quantum Mechanics project. They also worked with faculty in the KSU College of Education on a model program of research and development for the education of elementary teachers who would become science specialists.
In recent years the research and development has concentrated on using technology and other instruction materials to bring contemporary ideas into the physics classroom and to make those ideas accessible to students without significant mathematics or physics background. The GENE and the Visual Quantum Mechanics Projects have been the major efforts. These projects both investigate student learning and develop new materials. They were a major factor in KSU receiving, in 1997, an NSF Recognition Award for Integrating Research and Education.