© ICPE 1995, 1996 Copyright by The International Commission on Physics Education. All rights reserved. General permission is granted to copy these notes, but no changes may be made to the content, and appropriate acknowledgment must be made to the source.
This collection of brief notes concerning the organization of international
conferences on physics education was assembled primarily to assist conference
organizers who wish to apply for sponsorship by the International Union
of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP).
While specific suggestions are provided in connection with the formal process of applying for I.U.P.A.P. sponsorship, most of the notes are in the form of "things to think about when organizing an international conference." It is hoped, therefore, that the notes may be of use to physics education conference organizers generally.
E. L. Jossem
August 1995, Revised June 1996
The International Commission on Physics Education (ICPE) of IUPAP is
charged with reviewing all applications for IUPAP sponsorship of international
conferences on physics education, and making recommendations to the IUPAP
Executive Council which takes final action on the application. In fulfilling
its responsibilities, the ICPE looks at the stated goals of the conference,
and for answers to such questions as, for example:
Obtaining the required financial support for an international conference
is an important job for the conference organizer and, now-a-days, one of
the most difficult!
IUPAP provides some financial support to many, but not to all, of the conferences it sponsors. The application form for IUPAP Sponsorship asks for an Estimated Total Budget, whether there is a registration fee, and if so what is the amount, and whether an IUPAP grant is requested, and if so, in what amount.
At its meeting in the autumn of each year, the IUPAP Executive Council sets an upper limit on the registration fee which may be charged for IUPAP sponsored conferences to be held in the coming year. (For 1995 that limit was set at SFR 400, including proceedings [approximately US$325] ) If the registration fee for the conference includes living accommodations and food as well as proceedings, it is important to describe all the items which are paid for by the registration fee.
The question often arises about having different registration fees for
persons who one would like to have as participants, but who are not able
to afford the regular fee. Experience has indicted that in such cases a
reasonable solution is to maintain the regular registration fee for all
the participants, but to provide "scholarships" (i.e. money to
pay part or all of the registration fee) for the participants one wishes
to help in this respect.
Other possible sources of financial support for a conference include international organizations: UNESCO (Paris and the Regional UNESCO offices), The International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), The International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP). The Third World Network of Scientific Organizations (TWNSO) and The Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), both located at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste may provide information about possible sources of funding in many Third World regions.
Financial support may also be found from national and local governmental agencies, local banks and industries, and regional or local scientific and cultural organizations. Having IUPAP sponsorship is often seen as a guarantee of the technical quality of the conference when asking for support from other organizations.
Current information about IUPAP may be obtained through the Home Page of IUPAP at the address www.iupap.org
Information concerning applications for IUPAP sponsorship and/or support for international conferences may be obtained from the IUPAP WEB page at the address: http://www.iupap.org/policies.shtml or from the IUPAP Associate Secretary-General, Professor E. Molinari (2002), University of Modena, INFM & Dept. of Physics, Via Campi 213A, 1-41100 Modena Italy, Fax: (39-059) 374752; Phone: (39-059) 2055 284, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The planning of an international conference involves a consideration of a multitude of different things. Only a few of them can be discussed briefly here.
In the long run this is perhaps the most important aspect of planning for an international conference. It determines how well, and to what extent, the conference will meet the needs and expectations of the participants.
Plenary lectures may serve the purpose of providing quick overviews of a field, and an enthusiastic lecturer may inspire and motivate the people in the audience. Such lectures may also serve a social purpose in allowing the conference to advertise the presence of internationally well-known persons. However, we have probably all come away from a plenary lecture which we enjoyed very much, and which seemed very clear to us at the time, but when we have been asked to explain to others what the lecture was about we have found it not so clear or easy as we had thought. Research in physics education has provided ample evidence that individuals learn best when they are active participants in the process. The old saying "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand" speaks to this point. It is useful to keep this in mind when deciding on the number and length of plenary lectures.
Experience has also shown that it is important that the person giving a plenary lecture be clearly informed about the nature of the audience to whom the lecture will be given. If the level of the lecture is either too high or too low it can be a disaster. Not all disasters can be avoided, but the organizers need to discuss with the lecturer both the appropriate level and the length of the lecture. It may be of interest to describe here a very successful experiment in actively involving the audience in a Plenary Lecture session. Before the lecture each member of the audience was assigned to a discussion group of 10 – 12 persons. The Lecture was given in the ordinary way, followed by a short question period. Then the audience broke up into their preassigned groups, with a pre-assigned moderator, and carried on a discussion of the Lecture.. The lecturer had been told of this plan when invited to give the lecture, and was also assigned to one of the discussion groups. Because of the time allotted to the discussion groups only about half the number of Plenary Lectures were possible. The audience, however, indicated that they benefited from the discussion groups, and that in this case "less was more."
In some circumstances Panel Discussions may be useful instead of a Plenary talk. However, the same considerations apply to the Panel Discussions as to the Plenary talks. How does one arrange for the audience to become active participants?
Working Groups and Workshops:
Working Groups are different from Workshops. The word “Workshop” is, ordinarily, understood to refer to sessions which are tutorial in nature, and where one, or a few, persons present material to be learned by the other participants. In contrast, the term "Working Group" is taken to refer to sessions in which participants have the opportunity to work together cooperatively in the discussion of topics of common interest, and in planning cooperative activities for the future. It is in these sessions that all participants can become active participants in the learning and teaching processes that go on at these conferences. These ideas are set forth in more detail in the Notes for Participants and Working Group Leaders in the "Teaching Modern Physics:" Conference Series which appears in the Appendix.
Poster sessions provide an opportunity for large numbers of participants to make a recognized contribution to the conference, and for participants to talk directly with the authors of the posters in which they are interested.
Demonstrations (Show & Tell):
Sessions featuring short presentations of quick and easy experiments and demonstrations are always popular and provide an excellent opportunity for participants to trade ideas.
Exhibits are also popular events at a conference, and commercial exhibitors may be a source of financial support for the conference.
Item C on the IUPAP Application Form states: "IUPAP policy calls for adequate representation of applied aspects wherever appropriate, and – at general conferences – the encouragement of a Public Lecture. Indicate how the conference can be responsive to these concerns."
Particularly in physics education conferences, an excellent Public Lecture can have valuable influences beyond the conference itself. It provides an opportunity for the physics community to explain to the society in which it lives – and on which it depends for support – how physics and physics education are of value to the society. The choice of the lecturer is obviously one of considerable importance in this case.
Generally speaking, Organizing Committees for international conferences are of two kinds: (a) those which may give advice, but usually do little work, and (b) those which take care of the detailed work of organizing and running the conference.
International Advisory Committees:
Members of such committees are usually chosen for their reputations as active and respected members of the international physics education community. They can be good sources of information about what are considered important topics in their own countries, and can be asked to comment on the preliminary program design. They can also be asked to serve as presiders at conference sessions. In the case of ICPE/IUPAP sponsored conferences, it is expected that the Chairman of ICPE and other ICPE members will be actively involved in planning the program for the conference.
Local Organizing Committees:
These are the committees that do all the detailed work of organizing and running the conference. They need to have people who will work cooperatively with the conference organizers, and who can and will take responsibility for carrying out the many details of the conference work. In particular, for international conferences, they will need to be sensitive to the needs of persons from cultures different that their own. What is entirely acceptable in one country may be strictly forbidden in another. In this matter also members of the International Advisory Committee and of ICPE may be of service.
Announcements: Announcements of an international conference may be made through a number of different media:
Direct mailings to persons known to the conference organizers.
Take account of the fact that ordinary mail (surface mail) may take three or four MONTHS to be delivered to certain parts of the world, and that even Air Mail may take several weeks to be delivered. Allow time for similar delays in replies.
Advertising the conference in physics and physics education journals.
Some journals publish a list of conferences which is up-dated fairly frequently. Remember here that the information must be received and accepted by the journal before the deadline date for publication for the next issue. The ICPE Newsletter and the GIREP Newsletter are two journals which reach many interested persons. China, Japan, and the USA have organized an International Communication Exchange Network for Physics Education. In China the International Physics Education Newsletter is published by the Chinese Physical Society. In Japan the Physics Education Society of Japan publishes the ICEC Newsletter on Physics Education. In the USA publication is in the Announcer published by the American Association of Physics Teachers. Other organizations include the Indian Association of Physics Teachers which publishes a monthly Bulletin, the Asia Pacific Teachers and Educators Association (APPTEA), the Asian Physics Education Network (ASPEN), and the Arab Physics Education Network (ARAPEN). UNESCO publishes the INISTE Bulletin, a quarterly journal of information produced in Paris by the Unit for Science and Technology Education. Electronic communication
While universal, easy, and affordable electronic communication is still a thing of the future, it has already become a very important aspect of communication for the physics education community. In particular, with the explosive growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web both individuals and organizations have developed "Home Pages" on the Web which provide up-to-date information on their activities, and are increasingly interactive in format and style. As an example, the current (June 1996) address for the Home Page for IUPAP is: www.iupap.org .
With security arrangements for transferring funds becoming better and more widely established on the WWW, the payment of registration and other fees may also become easier to arrange.
Registration for a conference has both communication and financial aspects, which have been discussed above.
Accommodations and Transportation:
There is a wide spectrum of needs and desires among conference participants with respect to accommodations and transportation. For most, however, financial considerations are of primary importance.
Conference organizers can assist by arranging for, and providing early information about, inexpensive lodgings, meals, and local transportation. Good maps showing the locations of lodgings, the conference site, and local transportation routes are very useful and appreciated.
Space and Equipment
Rooms for Meetings:
In addition to the rooms required for lectures, panel discussions, workshops, working groups, demonstrations, poster sessions and exhibits, it is very useful to set aside additional rooms that can be used by small groups of participants who may wish to have private discussions on the topics of the conference. One can talk to another person in the halls, but it is more convenient to be able to sit down together in a relatively quite place. If more than two persons wish to talk together, the availability of small rooms in which they can meet becomes even more important.
Overhead projectors for transparencies continue as a standard item of equipment. Some guidelines for the use of transparencies are given in the Appendix.
With the advent of the electronic age, computers are becoming more of a standard – and expensive – item at international conferences. It is sometimes possible to convince a computer manufacturer not only to exhibit their latest models at the conference exhibition, but to loan computers for conference use.
Exhibits and Exhibitors
Exhibits can serve a very useful function at a conference by bringing to participants who might not otherwise have an opportunity to see them, books, journals, audio and video recordings, CD-ROMS, computers, peripheral equipment, software, laboratory apparatus, and other kinds of instructional aids and equipment.
As noted previously, commercial exhibitors may also be a source of financial support and/or a source of equipment that may be borrowed for the duration of the conference.
One of the important reasons for holding an international conference is to allow people to interact with each other on a personal, face-to-face basis to share experiences and to get to know each other as human beings. The importance of providing time for them to do so in the context of the conference program has already been mentioned. Social events provide another kind of opportunity for renewing old friendships and for getting to know others. Very simple occasions such as "coffee breaks" in the program can be just as effective as more formal or elaborate ones.
After the Conference
The work of the conference is not complete at the end of the formal sessions of the conference. The conference organizers may take a well earned vacation, but much yet remains to be done. In particular, if there are proceedings of the conference, manuscripts must be collected and edited, the material must be published and distributed, and, in the case of IUPAP sponsored conferences, the appropriate forms need to be filled out and sent to the IUPAP office.
Notes For Participants And Working Group Leaders in the "Teaching Modern Physics:" Conference Series
These Notes are intended to provide historical background and comments and suggestions to Working Group leaders and participants about the philosophy, and the strategy and tactics for Working Groups in the I.C.P.E. "Teaching Modern Physics:" series of conferences.
Teachers of physics are all aware of the gap between what we know about physics and what we teach students at the secondary school and introductory university levels. Research in physics continues to broaden and deepen our knowledge of the subject and to provide new perspectives, new theories and new models of physical phenomena. One has only to look, for example, at the Physics and Astronomy Classification System (PACS) and compare it to the table of contents of almost all introductory physics texts to see the major differences between the view of physics we present to students and the view that we, ourselves, hold. There has been much discussion at many conferences about the extent to which "Modern Physics" can be incorporated into the teaching of physics at the secondary school and introductory university levels, and about how this can be done.
The International Commission on Physics Education has attempted to stimulate discussion and curricular experimentation in this area through a series of international conferences under the general title of Teaching Modern Physics. The first of these conferences was arranged by the late Professor R.U. Sexl and was held at C.E.R.N. in 1984 on the topics of Elementary Particles, Relativity, and Cosmology. These topics were repeated at a conference held at Fermi Laboratory in 1986. The third conference in the series was hosted by Professor K. Luchner at the University of Munich in 1988 and was on the subject of Condensed Matter Physics. Professors M. Velarde and F. Cuadros were hosts to the fourth conference in Badajoz in 1992 to explore recent advances in the area of Statistical Physics, and to discuss how, and to what extent, information and insights in this area might be incorporated into physics curricula. The goal was both to discuss what might be done, and to formulate plans for doing it after the conference was over and the participants had returned to their own homes. Planning for future activities in curriculum innovation, and in the creation of new teaching materials is an integral and important goal for these T.M.P. conferences, and cooperative and "Networking" arrangements among the participants are strongly encouraged. (Note: Another conference in this series the "International Conference Teaching The Science Of Condensed Matter And New Materials" was co-sponsored by ICPE and GIREP and organized by Professor Marissa Michelini, was held at the University of Udine, Italy, 24-30 August 1995)
Since there have been many more important advances in our knowledge of the topics of these conferences than it is possible to discuss at any one conference, one needs to choose a very few topics and focus attention on them. Other topics can be treated at future conferences.
The plenary sessions are intended to be few in number and designed to provide for the conference participants a broad overview of some of the significant recent advances in the field. The talks are given by internationally recognized experts in their fields. Also, the plenary speakers are available as resource persons in the Working Group sessions.
The main business of the conference is conducted in the Working Groups. . Physics teachers from all over the world meet in these groups to work together in discussing the problems of integrating the concepts of "Modern Physics" into their physics teaching curricula, and to plan future activities, both individual and cooperative, for experimenting with curricular innovations and with the creation of new teaching materials.
Working Group leaders accept the responsibility for seeing that the goals of the conference are carried out. They are responsible, also, for reporting on the accomplishments of their group at the Plenary Reporting Session on the morning of the last day of the conference.
Since there is a need for flexibility in ways of achieving the conference goals, the detailed procedures to be used in doing so are left to the good judgment of the participants and the Working Group leaders in each group. In general, however, it has been found useful to start the first session of a working group by having the members of the group introduce themselves, state the name of the institution with which they are connected, and state very briefly what their main interests are. Depending on the interests of the participants, discussion may then focus on identifying particular issues for discussion and planning. What topics are the best candidates for inclusion into curricula at various levels? How might they be integrated into current curricula? What new teaching materials and/or new teaching methods would need to be created for this purpose? How might this be accomplished? What cooperative arrangements among the Working Group participants might be established? Again, the intent of these suggestions is not to prescribe in detail what the Working Groups are expected to do, but, rather, to indicate more specifically the general goals of the T.M.P. Conference Series.
It is the hope of the I.C.P.E. and of the conference organizers that the discussions begun at these conferences and the friendships and cooperative arrangements made there will continue and will be productive far into the future.
The International Commission on Physics Education, July 1992
Guidelines For Overhead Transparencies*
I. Overhead transparencies should be designed in such a way as to be readable by any person in the audience. Typically, large projection screens are 2 m. x 2 m. in size and conference rooms are 10 m. long. To be clearly readable in the back of the room, a projected letter or number should be 11 cm. high. Typical overhead projectors have an area of 25 cm. x 25 cm. If this area fills the 2 m. x 2 m. screen, a simple calculation shows that a letter or number written on the transparency should be not less than 1 cm. high to be clearly readable in the setting of a typical hotel conference room. This criterion also implies that an overhead transparency should not have more than 10 written lines or equations.
2. Transparencies which are photocopied from typed or printed material do not, in general, meet the criteria in paragraph 1 and are not acceptable for a conference setting.
3. If it is necessary to show a table on a transparency in order to indicate the scope of the work done, one or two important lines or numbers should be written out in large size on the top or bottom of the table, so that they meet criterion 1.
4. Various kinds of water-soluble and -insoluble ink pens are available for transparencies. Pens marked "superfine" produce lines and letters which cannot be seen clearly at 10 m. The best pens are "medium “.
5. Colors can be used to advantage on a transparency. Only strong colors should be used: such as purple, blue, green, and red. Brown and yellow do not show up well. Important symbols in an equation written in color are helpful in a rapid presentation.
6. Overlays can also be used to advantage, to show comparisons between theory and experiment, additions or modifications of theories or equipment, etc. The overlay should be in a color different from the original.
7. If the transparency is laid out within a 25 cm. x 25 cm. space, a lot of moving around of the transparency can be avoided.
8. To point out special items on a transparency, use a pointer and point at the screen, standing in the plane of the screen and to one side of the screen. In most conference settings if you stand next to the overhead projector and point at the transparency, the view of the screen is blocked for some of the audience.
9. In general, one should count on 2 to 3 minutes to explain one transparency. Hence, for a 10 minute paper, not more than 5 transparencies should be shown.
* These Guidelines have been adapted from an American Physical Society document attributed to Walter Meyerhof. Appendix 3
INTERNATIONAL UNION OF PURE AND APPLIED PHYSICS APPLICATION FOR SPONSORSHIP OF AN INTERNATIONAL MEETING
Name of Commission: __________________________________________________________
TITLE OF CONFERENCE: ______________________________________________________
Location: ___________________________________________ Date: _________________
Organizer or Secretary: Name ________________________________________
Type of Conference: General  Topical  Special  Number expected____________
1. NATURE OF CONFERENCE
A) Ongoing series : Describe below briefly the scope of the conference and attach a program and list of speakers from one or more recent conferences
B) New conference: Bearing in mind that the proliferation of conferences is of general concern, describe below the particular reason for holding this conference.
(continue this answer and any other answers on a separate sheet, as needed)
C) IUPAP policy calls for adequate representation of applied aspects wherever appropriate, and, at general conferences, the encouragement of a Public Lecture. Indicate how this conference can be responsive to these concerns.
2. INTERNATIONAL CHARACTER: To qualify for IUPAP sponsorship:
A) The meeting must be open to scientists regardless of nationality and citizenship List below the name and address of the official who will be responsible for assuring that the host country fulfills this obligation, and discuss any potential problems that you know of at this time
B) The scientific advisory program must be international in character. List below three members of the Committee, from three different nations _______________________________________________________________________
C) At least 30% of the attendees must be from outside of the host country.
D) If the conference is by invitation, potential contributors from all IUPAP member countries must be eligible. (Discuss on a separate sheet any unusual circumstances in fulfilling parts C) and D)).
If you know of any potential conflicts with other conferences, please describe on a separate sheet
Has this conference the support of the Liaison Committee of the host country ? yes  no 
Estimated total budget: $_______________________
Is there a registration fee? yes  no  Amount____________
Is an IUPAP grant requested? yes  no  Amount ____________
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