Which teaching future will FSU’s Physics faculty choose? We’ll discuss during next week’s Physics Colloquium

Update (Saturday evening, September 9):  No, we will not discuss the future of FSU’s introductory physics classes next week.  The university will remain closed all week because of Hurricane Irma and the expected power outages.



The two pictures above illustrate the choices that my colleagues in the FSU Physics Department have when it comes to meeting the exploding demand for the introductory physics courses that students are required to take if they are majoring in engineering, computer science, science or health fields.

On top is a scene from UF’s online algebra-based physics course, which is generally taken by students majoring in life sciences or health fields.

Below that is a picture taken last week from a first semester calculus-based class being held in FSU’s newest science studio classroom.

The online course is sanitary and – at least from the point of view of the instructors – orderly.  It requires the sort of management skills in which scientists excel.

The studio course is messy and chaotic.  It requires constant negotiation, observation and mediation – skills not included in degree programs in science.

In which do students learn physics with greater understanding?  According to the research, it’s in the studio course – and it’s not close, as shown below.


In this figure, which illustrates normalized learning gains for the Force Concept Inventory in traditional lecture classes, an MIT online course and “interactive engagement” courses like our studio physics courses from research studies (in green) and our own studio physics results from the last three years (in red), the online course edges out the traditional lecture course.  But the “IE” courses blow both away.

With a teaching facility crisis looming, it’s time for FSU’s Physics faculty to decide which way it wants to go.  We’ll learn something about how they are feeling next Thursday, September 14 at 3:45 pm in the Physics Department Colloquium, titled “The Future of Introductory-Level Teaching in the FSU Physics Department:  A Discussion.”  It will be held at 3:45 pm in UPL 101.  Refreshments will be served at 3:15.

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