This week I went to the summer meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT). It was great to see so many friends (some of whom I hadn’t met face to face before) and it was fun to brainstorm ideas about all facets of physics teaching. It was also cool to see presentations about things ranging from ways to use video analysis for student projects (thanks Aaron Titus!) to the amazing story of the prediction and discovery of the Higgs boson.

I also spent a fair amount of time comparing my experiences there to my experiences with the Global Physics Department. I thought I’d use this post to try to get my thoughts down about that comparison, and, maybe, start a further discussion about it below in the comments.

First, similarities. Things they both do, or don’t do, well (numbered in case you want to refer to them).

  1. Get to learn about innovative ideas
  2. Get to build relationships with people
  3. Get to hear and tell lots of physics jokes

Next, things that AAPT does well that GPD doesn’t:

  1. A focused, intense, long time to talk about physics and physics teaching.
  2. Rooming with a fellow small-school physics professor (Thanks, Ben Stottrup!).
  3. Great chance to use great meals to build relationships
    1. Bobby Flay’s Burger Palace has great food and had great fellowship (including a great pic of me that Fran Poodrytook – hopefully she’ll be willing to send it to me to put here).

      SuperFly at AAPT

    2. I used the word “great” there a bunch, sorry. Peter Bohacek pointed out at that dinner that I also use the word “awesome” a lot. I proposed the adjective “SuperFly.”
  4. Good place to participate in discussion about the direction of physics teaching policy issues (things like standards etc) by attending the committee meetings.
  5. A talk there can be put on your CV and people know what it means
    1. and an invited talk there is well understood, from a CV perspective

Now some things that GPD does well but AAPT doesn’t:

  1. Always leaves time for discussion after a speaker
    1. see below as I talk about how that discussion has a place to go afterwards as well
  2. Has a vibrant backchannel during presentations
  3. All presentations are recorded
  4. You can wear pajamas
  5. It’s free

One thing I really didn’t like at AAPT this year were the sessions with 3 invited speakers who all went long, with no time at the end for discussion. Those presenters could have just recorded their presentations and put them on youtube or something. My favorite sessions were those where a clear discussion could happen. I really liked what Danny Caballero did in the session I talked in. It was scheduled for 90 minutes, and me I and the other two speakers (superstars Frank Noschese and Noah Podolefsky) each only talked for 15 minutes. That left nearly half the time for discussion. Awesome. Sorry, SuperFly.

I think the sessions I love most in both AAPT and GPD are those where there’s a somewhat open question, and a small number of experts sets the table for a great discussion on the topic.

Let’s be clear, I do have an agenda here. I think GPD is great and it has a chance to really grow to be one of the most important groups to help physics teachers. Right now we’re small and very agile, both, really, the opposite of AAPT. I like those strengths, and the size and (slow) speed of the AAPT really dragged on me a little this past week.

So, what are your thoughts? Here are some extreme stances to get your blood boiling. None of these describe my feeling (I think), they’re just conversation starters:

  1. I’ll never go to AAPT again. I get all I need from GPD, twitter, and the physics blogosphere.
  2. I would never put a presentation at GPD on my cv. It’s too informal.
  3. If GPD becomes more successful, it’ll look just like AAPT does now.
  4. GPD and AAPT have nothing to do with each other. They scratch completely different itches for me.

Whoops, just realized that I mentioned earlier that I had some thoughts about where discussions can go after a GPD presentation. I was referring to how both twitter and the blogosphere really take off after most GPD meetings. John Burk leads the way, usually. I don’t feel that such conversations do the same thing at AAPT, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

About Andy Rundquist

Professor of physics at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN
This entry was posted in glodal physics department, physics, teaching, twitter. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to GPD vs AAPT

  1. The PERC guided poster sessions are amazing. They are exactly what I want all of AAPT to be. I find it ironic that we have spent, as a community, a considerable amount of effort into showing that lecture doesn’t work only to get together and lecture at each other for 8 minutes a piece. If I were to change one thing about AAPT it would be this, get rid of all afternoon stuff and replace it with topical poster discussions. NRC framework? Lets all get together having 5-6 presenters come at it from different angles with a ton of time at the end for discussion. I don’t want rows of chairs, I want circles. I want debate. I want someone challenging my beliefs. I think this would get rid of “FCI fatigue” (feel free to use this term and tell your friends you know me, the creator of it) and at the same time spur innovation.

    To put this in perspective, my 8 minute talk got a couple of comments, one from a friend who pointed out socio-economic status is important. This spurred several conversations afterwards (one with you) and gave me a ton to think about (guess I have something to write about in my thesis!). That being said, it was basically my friend yelling from the back, “What about socio-economic status!” Think about that. If instead of 2 minutes we had 20 and a room full of people to dissect my work over those 20 minutes, not only would I be a shell of a man, I would walk away as a much better researcher. Now I know, this sounds like it would extend the length of the conference, reduce the number submissions, and a whole host of other problems, but who cares? We want excellent research to come out of this community and to get that we have to decide what is important and what isn’t.

    • Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

      Great points, John. I would love it if the chairs were in circles, even with rows that would be cool!

  2. Steve Maier says:

    I would list presenting at GPD on a CV in a “presentations” section comparable to an AAPT conference contributed paper; (perhaps commensurate with an invited departmental colloquium, depending on the nature of the talk). My reasoning: Contributed papers at AAPT are not peer-reviewed; anyone who wants to present can get a slot. GPD presentations are invited, may have more in attendance than AAPT contributed talks and generate more discussion afterward (it has a digital paper trail, too).

    For me personally, I feel much was accomplished during committee meetings and in person ad hoc meetings following sessions at AAPT. Large meetings do lend themselves to getting lost in session overload, but the cross-section of professionals you can interact with is a great benefit.

    In short, GPD is different from AAPT and I would not choose one over the other. Both are wonderful supplements to the professional needs of folks with varied constraints and needs. That said, I need to attend GPD more often!

  3. Send me a note to remind me to send you photos!

  4. Joss Ives says:

    I echo John’s love of the PERC targeted sessions and like the idea of a half-day virtual conference that had a couple of targeted sessions where 4-6 presenters each had 10 minutes to present and then another 30 minutes to an hour to have a larger group conversation.

    As for the actual AAPT vs GPD debate. Through GPD and twitter I have had a chance to get to know some of my virtual colleagues quite well, but I find that this stuff happens much quicker in person. Of course if I dedicated an entire work-week to interacting with my virtual colleagues I might find that relationships and collaborations would grow very quickly in that environment there.

  5. Pingback: On-line versus face-to-face professional development « Confused at a higher level

  6. Pingback: AAPT wrap up « Quantum Progress

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