Final Report WG1

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HOPE is an “Academic Network Project” whose purpose is to enhance the impact of physics within the European socio-economic area. It is co-funded by the European Commission in its “Life Long Learning” Programme and by the Partners of HOPE which are mostly Physics Departments of universities in Europe.  Its purpose is to create value for its stakeholders by investigating issues of importance to university physics departments. In particular, the HOPE project aimed to investigate  
How more students can be attracted to study physics at university.

The background to this aim is a concern that in some European countries there is a perceived shortage of physics graduates and a widely held belief that an increase in well qualified physics graduates would be of benefit to the economic competitiveness of Europe.   Although several other studies of this type have been made of the attitudes to physics of students in schools very few have been made of students at university.

Key figures

54 Partners participated to the activities
2 Meetings (Varsaw 2014, Naples 2014)
1 Forum (Helsinki 2014, booklet here)
5 instruments developped and distributed
37 poster contributions (see here)
13 invited and oral contributions
4139 data collected
1 publication accepted (EJP coming soon, preprint here)
1 publication published (look here)


The University Student Questionnaire

This work was led by Gareth W. Jones together with collaborators from 15 partners and it resulted in the design, the distribution and the data collection of a 1st Year University Physics Students Questionnaire on reasons for students’ decision to study physics.
The key aspects of the questionnaire were :

  • It was designed to discover successful factors since 1st Year students have already acted on their decision to study physics at university.
  • Its design was determined by its Aims and by the characteristics of its Target Population of 1st year university physics students.
  • It was based on previous investigations at Imperial College London which had looked at internal factors and external influences on physics students and which had involved discussions with students and with academic staff.
  • It was developed by small team of WG1A members and went through 5 drafts and two trials before being implemented. The trials involved students at several universities of the network.
  • There were 20 Questions which asked students to rate the importance of various factors and external influences.
  • There were also 9 other questions on age of 1st interest and application, gender, school type, other subjects considered and an open response question on other reasons for choosing physics.
  • 2485 student responses were obtained from 34 universities in 16 European countries. The Partners which provided response data.

Look at the questionnaire in english here


Main Features of the Results of the University Student Questionnaire

  • Internal Factors are rated very highly as a reason for studying physics at university.
  • Internal Factors concerning a wish to understand how physics explains things dominate over a wish to enhance employment prospects.
  • External Influences are rated significantly less highly than internal factors.
  • The External Influence with the highest mean score is the Internet.
  • The External Influence with the greatest number of responses =5 (very important) is “Making or using a physics based device” implying that external influences that involve the active participation of students are the most effective.
  • The percentage of female students of physics varies widely from country to country with the highest percentage being in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
  • Gender effects in responses to particular questions seem to be small.   However, advice from the family is more influential for female students than for male students, the internet is more influential for male students than male students and female students become very interested in physics at an earlier age than male students.

Look at the full report here.


Understanding first year students "curiosity and interest about physics" : lessons learned from the HOPE project


This work was led by Olivia Levrini with the collaboration of Anna De Ambrosis, Sabine Hemmer, Antti Laherto, Massimiliano Malgieri, Ornella Pantano, Giulia Tasquier together with the community of interviewers that includes (13 partners).

This paper focuses on results of an Interview based Survey of 1st Year University Physics Students, carried out within the EU HOPE project ( 94 interviews conducted in 13 universities have been analysed to investigate the factors that inspire the young people to study physics. In particular, the main motivational factor, which was proven to consist in personal interest and curiosity, was unfolded into different categories and detailed interest profiles were produced. The results are arguably useful to help the academic curriculum developers and teaching personnel in Physics departments to provide guidance to students in developing and focusing their interest towards specific sub-fields and/or to design targeted recruitment and outreach initiatives.
The main intended use of this survey is to help academic curriculum developers and teaching personnel in Physics departments to understand the different perspectives, interests and curiosity about Physics among their students. Such understanding may support the development of courses and teaching methods to better address and enhance students’ curiosity and interest, and thereby, to keep students active and motivated in their studies and future careers. The initial interest profiles of students can evolve in many ways and take different forms. It is up to the instructors in each department to decide how to provide guidance to students in developing and focusing their interest towards specific sub-fields.
Finally, results can also be useful for designing targeted recruitment and outreach initiatives which foster interest in physics at pre-college levels.

The dissatisfaction profiles can provide a reasoned support to plan new investigations within the Departments and to plan possible actions to address the dropping-out problem.

The results from the interviews are consistent with the results from the questionnaire but help to explore the reasons for some questionnaire responses. Specifically the role of the physics teacher and of the family is more positive than might appear in the questionnaire results.

Preprint of the paper to be published in The European Journal of Physics.


University Student Questionnaire : Common Factor Analysis

The study was led by Dimitrios Koliopoulos together with Konstantinos Lavidas & Kalliopi Meli 

In order to extract factors that interpret the common variance among our items (closed type questions), we use Common Factor Analysis (CFA). Those items, which correlate with each other, share to a great extent a common variance and therefore we can put together a group of common factors that encapsulates items’ common variance. CFA was our preferable method of analysis, as our main goal is to identify the structure of factors that have inspired physics students to study physics.
CFA was conducted only on those samples that included at least 5 responses for each one of the 20 items (closed-type questions). As a sum, we conducted nine CFA: eight for countries (Italy, Great Britain, Spain, Romania, Poland, Germany, Greece and Lithuania) and one for the whole sample. Regarding the reasons that inspired young physics students to study physics, CFA has resulted to 5 rather distinctive factors. The names of the extracted factors are closely related to the spirit of the questionnaire and the general picture of the results; nevertheless, they remain subjective.

Deep Understanding. This factor mainly includes the items related to the understanding of the world and the universe, the way things work and the need to learn advanced physics. These items have in common one’s internal compulsion for broad-spectrum and/or profound physics knowledge.
Interactive Experiences. This factor includes the items related to visits to museums, exhibitions, laboratories and visits from university stuff to the school. It is often combined with encouragement from family, friends and classmates, which is suitable since the above-mentioned experiences are mostly obtained within a highly social environment.
Informal learning. This factor includes the items related to scientific books, magazines, TV documentaries and websites. A substantial difference between this and the previous factor (Interactive Experiences) is that, although they both belong to the large spectrum of informal education, Informal Learning involves the notion of personal choice and typically is a “lonely process”. Nevertheless, there are a few cases that we find one item of Interactive Experiences clustering with the items of Informal Learning and vice versa.
Career. This factor mainly includes two items that have obvious career orientation: getting an interesting job and enhancing employment prospects. Occasionally these two are combined with the wish to become a researcher, but never a physics teacher.
Research spirit. Although this factor could be integrated to Deep Understanding and/or Career, in Torino and in Italy in general it is very characteristic, including the following three items: become a physics researcher, learn advanced physics and get an interesting job, that suggest a Research Spirit.


University Student Questionnaire : Correlation Studies

These studies were mainly done by Massimiliano Malgieri

Correlation coefficients between questions Q1-Q20 of the University Student Questionnaire were computed. An example of correlation analysis is given below.

Looking at the correlations of the age of first interest with different questions nation by nation, some interesting features can be highlighted. A visual representation of the map of Europe reporting the motivating factor most correlated with earliness of interest in Physics, for all nations reached by the HOPE questionnaire is reported above.
In many countries the question most strongly correlated with early age of first interest in physics concerns factors of personal interest or success in school physics as could possibly be expected. However, in Italy and Spain, the question with highest correlation coefficient is concerning interest arising from reading books or magazines. In Great Britain the most correlated question is the  “Wish to become a physics researcher”. In Finland, whose data are limited to the University of Helsinki, the factor most correlated with early initial interest in physics is “Visit to scientific laboratories”  and the correlation of “visits to museum or special exhibitions” is also unusually high. In most other countries these questions are not correlated, or in many cases are even negatively correlated with early age of interest.
We caution against over-interpreting the above chart since in some countries the differences between correlations of various questions with age of first interest are quite small.


Preliminary Data Analysis of SSQ-HOPE Questionnaire on Factors Inspiring Secondary Students to Study Physics


This work was led by Marisa Michelini with the collaboration of Gesche Pospiech and Alberto Stefanel

SSQ (Secondary School Student Questionnaire)-HOPE questionnaire is one of the actions of the EU HOPE-Project (Horizons in physics education), a cooperation project of 71 European partners. The HOPE-project is striving to find ways to inspire young people to study physics (Working Group 1 - WG1). SSQ is part of it in concentrating on the transition school-university with a focus on the factors motivating secondary school students which are talented in physics to study physics. In order to reach the pre-defined target group the questionnaire was distributed in events with physics content mostly taking place at universities, research institutions or at similar occasions. In order to identify promising activities information on the type of event, its characteristics and the process of selection of students were collected. From the preliminary administrations the role of open questions emerged which are necessary to get a quite precise impression of the reasons inducing students to study physics and the role of the school in relation to outreach activities. A preliminary analysis of the data collected with a restricted sample of 139 students participating in the International IPPOG-Masterclasses in the universities of Udine and Dresden is presented here. From the data emerged that a positive decision to study physics seams highly correlated to existing deep interest and perceived traits of a physicist.

The paper is available here.

HOPE recommendations on the attractiveness of young people to physics studies

For university physics departments

Efforts to attract students to physics degree courses at university should emphasize its intrinsic interest as satisfying a basic urge to understand the world; the fact that it enhances employment opportunities should be regarded as a bonus.  However, this may depend on the local employment opportunities for physics graduates.
The career flexibility of physics graduates should be emphasised as well as the transferability of physics based competences particularly problem-solving.
Promotion of physics to young people should attempt to get them actively involved in practical activities involving physics rather than being passive receivers.
Inviting school parties to visit universities is better than getting staff to visit schools.
Outreach activities should give examples of both pure research and also of the role of physics research in producing new technology.
Efforts should be made to inspire children in primary schools to start thinking for themselves about physics as a way of understanding the world around them.
Physics degree programme design should include some content and activities in the first year of the course that address research frontiers and that allow creative engagement with physics topics.

For science education policy makers

Physics education in schools and university physics degrees should be supported because it responds to deep wishes of young people to understand the world around them and at the same time provides them with very flexible skills for solving problems and contributing to the advance of technology which in turn leads to economic growth.
Physics education in schools should explain the nature of physics as a way of understanding the world based on careful observation, experiments and the construction of mathematically based models.
The possibility of making a career as a physics teacher should be promoted in schools.