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PhD defense

March 21 @ 10:00 am - 11:00 am

I’d like to invite you to attend my PhD defense on Thursday, March 21st at 9:30 am in Phillips 277. A zoom link is also be provided for those who would like to attend but can’t be there in person. Please find the topic and abstract of my dissertation below.

Thank you,
Tim Osborn

zoom link:



Topic: An Exploration of Inequality in North Carolina High School Physics Education

Concept inventories are widely used in physics education research, yet numerous studies show that concept inventories assign dramatically different learning gains to different demographic groups. Prior studies show that the performance gaps between demographic groups are already present in their pre-instruction responses, suggesting that the observed gaps are largely due to students’ prior experiences. For college students, these “prior experiences” are often attributed to their high school physics education (or lack thereof). If this is true, then one would expect the performance gaps on the pre-instruction responses to disappear if we control for the highest level of high school physics (e.g., AP/IB, honors, non-honors, or no prior physics whatsoever) taken by students.

I investigate this hypothesis, by looking at the responses of 1414 college students to the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) at the very beginning of their first semester of an introductory college physics class. All 1414 students went to high school in North Carolina before taking their college physics class at a public college or university in North Carolina. I found that performance gaps exist between men and women, even when we control for their prior high school physics course. To further understand the factors that influence this phenomenon, I investigate the role played by a myriad of demographic and geographic variables on the learning outcomes of students of differing identities coming from different locales. My results suggest that for different groups of students, certain school and geographic factors may have outsized influence on their physics learning outcomes when compared with all students.

Overall, my results suggest that even if we were to achieve parity in the coursework of students of different identities and backgrounds, this alone would not create parity in student learning outcomes. In light of these results, I urge those who teach physics and/or conduct research in physics education to more deeply consider what we mean when we say we desire “equality” in our classrooms, who is most served by particular frameworks of “equality”, and what it would mean to push against structures of marginalization that cultivate the phenomena investigated in projects like this.


March 21
10:00 am - 11:00 am


Phillips 277