Physc For Scientists IILocation: JFB 325 (James Fletcher), JFB 325 (James Fletcher)
Graduate Seminar: Ms
Special Reading Topics:
Graduate Seminar: Phd
I define successful learning in physics not based on the acquisition of knowledge but on the acquisition of an understanding of physics concepts and the ability to apply these concepts to problem solving. Thus, learning physics requires developing understanding rather than simple memorization of facts. Consequently, teaching physics, compared to other disciplines, is much less focused on solely conveying (“reading”) knowledge but much more on the practice of problem solving, discussion and the repeated regurgitation and revisitation of subjects from as many different perspectives as possible.
In practice, teaching physics means enabling students to apply their knowledge to problem solving. This is achieved most effectively through continuous student instructor interaction. When an instructor communicates content to students, they must have the chance to provide the instructor with a response that will allow the instructor to assess the students’ learning success. One way to implement this is through in-class discussions of problems and the careful introduction of questions that challenge students to repeat and apply their newly gained knowledge. When such communication checks create a discussion based lecture style, the pace of the class can be regulated to the appropriate level for the class - if topics are presented too fast or in a too complicated manner, the instructor will receive feedback immediately and can adjust the lecture to the needs of the students. As the ability of students to engage in classroom discussion and instructor interaction varies significantly, I regularly and intensively utilize electronic in-class feedback tools, including cell-phone apps and clicker response systems. For me, these have worked excellently for in-class discussions and regularly include the overwhelming majority of students.
In order to allow for sufficient time and space for discussion-based learning, I have increasingly moved in recent years towards inverted classroom teaching styles. For the undergraduate level, in particular lower-division courses, this can be implemented easily with web-based packages (e.g. smartPhysics). It is important though for the application of such lecture-preparation media that the instructor ensures that the course does not degenerate into a quasi-online course. Online media can always only be aids that remove activities from the classroom which can be carried out outside of the classroom in an equivalent way. They cannot substitute for classroom experiences such as in-depth explanation, discussion, practice and the application of physics knowledge.
Teaching physics beyond the lower-division undergraduate level, and especially at the graduate level, is significantly different compared to introductory physics courses. Here, the traditional lecture style remains much more efficient albeit changes, especially with regard to the use of innovative technologies have taken place in recent years as well. Independent from these developments though, application of acquired knowledge is as important for these courses as for introductory courses. Thus, in-class discussion, extensive additional discussion sessions, possibly laboratories, or other kinds of practice sessions which allow students to apply and test their problem solving and problem discussion skills, are crucial for the learning success in these courses as well.
While, for the reasons discussed above, I strongly support of the use of electronic learning media, including online resources for pre-lectures, lecture demonstrations and other learning tools, I support these only as long as their benefit compared to non-electronic teaching and learning aids is ensured. Electronics can positively or negatively impact the classroom depending on whether their benefits are understood and appropriately used. An adherence to technology based teaching methods that is not carefully considered and monitored can lead to a waste of resources and adverse learning effects.