Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award

Summer 8-11-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Physics and Astronomy

First Advisor

Brian D. Thoms

Second Advisor

Megan Elizabeth Connors

Third Advisor

Michael Schatz

Fourth Advisor

Mukesh Dhamala

Fifth Advisor

Kadir Demir


This dissertation aims to improve physics education by evaluating instructional interventions in introductory physics courses and retention decisions of physics majors. Physics Education Research Group at Georgia State University (GSU) has implemented two instructional interventions in introductory physics courses: SCALE-UP implementation in algebra-based courses and lab reform in calculus-based courses. Half of the algebra-based courses at GSU has converted as SCALE-UP in Fall 2008. The effects of implementation on student learning, retention, and learning attitudes are investigated. It has been found that student learning and retention are improved in SCALE-UP, but Traditional courses have caught up this improvement over the years. Since the same instructors teach both courses, instructors started to use research-based interactive methods in both classes and may result in these improvements in both of them over the years. However, only SCALE-UP is effective in improving students’ attitudes and beliefs in Conceptual Understanding and Problem-Solving categories. We suggest that instructor involvement in all aspects of the course results in a more coherent expert-like framework presented in SCALE-UP classrooms resulting in the development of a more integrated expert-like view of Conceptual Understanding and Problem Solving.

Three-hour traditional labs converted into one-hour tutorials with learning assistants, and two-hour inquiry-based experiments with lab reform. The effects of lab reform on student learning, persistence, and learning attitudes are investigated. We report lab reform improved student learning and retention rates but fail to improve learning attitudes. Even though lab reform is successful in increasing students’ conceptual understanding and result in improvements in learning and retention, students report they do not see tutorials as a practical use of time and energy may be resulting in negative learning attitudes.

Moreover, to improve physics education, we have investigated the characteristics of students who stayed in physics by interviewing with undergraduate physics majors from first-year students to seniors. Their experiences, physics identity development, and integration into the physics department are probed. We have found that Gateway to Physics Courses, upper-level physics courses, and doing research are significant milestones that influence students’ persistence decisions by influencing physics majors’ identity and academic integration.

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