Using WWW Resources in Teaching Physics

Focus: Introductory Physics

by Judy Austin,
April 27, 1996


Multimedia can be employed in university lectures and is used across Canada, America and the rest of the world. Teachers and professors who fear the invasion of computers and software are turning their backs on the advantages that could be presented to them in the forms of movies, working models and digital diagrams. In physics, programs available by computer may be used in lecture, in labs and in tutorials. The students can be further empowered and excited to learn through interactive media and connection to peer groups via the computer. Ultimately the goal of using new teaching forms is to increase the understanding of the subject by the students. Some options that are available to teachers are not better or more complete methods of teaching physics. Students should not be handed the answers to test questions, because they are then they are not given the opportunity to investigate and struggle through theories. Professors who put their course notes directly onto the internet run the risk of losing contact with their students. Even if a web site contained an abundance of information, it is not beneficial to a students who have not the patience to read numerous pages of straight text. The role of the internet is not to replace teachers, the labs or the textbook necessarily, but to augment and improve under- standing and clarity in the course. It is important to note that due to different learning styles and levels of understanding, different computer options are better suited for some students than for others.

What follows is a survey of several instruments, some on the market and others are being used by schools for teaching physics. Accompanying each bookmark is a subjective comment made by an average first year physics student, and a rating based on the material's perceived effectiveness for introductory physics students:

* - poor
** - acceptable but needs improvement
*** - very good

What we have at Brock

As a first year student, it is sometimes difficult to understand the professors explain concepts. Mistakes may occur and details are left unclear, leaving students confused and frustrated. It is important to consider all styles of learning, and how to accomadate all students. Computers are used at Brock University by some professors to il lustrate concepts in lecture and a general sample of students agree they have experienced deeper understanding and are able to focus more attentively in computer-augmented lectures.
** Overheads for Physics 1F20/1F25
This provides a visual picture of the concepts being explained. The typed ques tions allow the students to concentrate on the explanation of the answers instead of trying to copy down the questions or lug around a heavy notebook.
*** Weekly Physics 1F20/1F25 Tutorial Problems
Allows students to find the homework for the present and following weeks. Gives students the possibility of looking and working ahead (if they so desire). If the students could only access the homework questions by logging on to the computer, this might create more usage and exploration of the possible physics resources!
** Calyph
The program is a good review and rehearsal of physics skills. It acts as an aided tutorial and gives students practice in answering physics questions.It is an interesting and novel way to review answering questions. The program is good because it doesn't give the student immediate feedback as to why a question may be wrong.
*** Projectile Motion
An 'applet', as it is called, is a moving illustration of a concept or principle. Dr. Sternin recently purchased this program and plans to use it to augment his lectures.
** Brock University Physics Club
An excellent idea to make the study of physics somewhat easier and more enjoyable. It is important, however, that students, especially those taking mandatory introductory courses, find out about these clubs! Trips, meetings and membership drives should be big things, and an outgoing and, preferably, a good-looking member :) of the club should visit classes and promote, promote, promote!
*** Mylo's Home Page
The greater the knowledge of a student about the internet, the more likely he or she will be able to explore and satisfy the desire to know and to understand that is human nature. Many students use their web-page as a means of communication to other students and professors. Questions may be answered and new information can be explored using the internet and testing its capabilities.
** 4. A simple example
The more practice that a student has doing physics computations, the better. However, this program has too many complicated numbers and computer commands for the average neophyte computer user. To improve the program the professor should add more polish and pictures. The student only has time to study physics, not computer programming. A good on-line tutorial can help students to pin-point areas that they need to pay extra attention.

What other people do with the web

Outside of Brock University there is a wealth of different ways that the internet is used in teaching. Similar to Brock, some methods are good, others are not-so-good. The proceeding information is a sample of some of the ways the internet is employed, and their effectiveness for first year physics students.
*** Information on Fall 1995 Classes
This information page is detailed, clear and has many links. The options available to the students are numerous, including an up-to-date marks calculation(for those marks-oriented students), practice tests, study guides, test answers, and solutions for homework questions. A word of caution: the Internet is not meant to replace the teacher. The students should continue to seek out help and guidance from professors and tutorial leaders, and the solutions to their errors should not be immediately given.
* content
A lecture list that is too long loses the interest of students. This summary also lacks links to the diagrams and illustrations listed.
*** GIF image 447x345 pixels
This type of picture is similar to the ones used in lecture by Professor E. Sternin at Brock. The difference is that there are more notes written on the page. This would be helpful to students who are better visual learners than audio learners.
* A Solutions to the Excercises
Straight text answers to the exercises do not give any further explanation or deeper insight than ordinary paper.Students may become less likely to talkto the professor or tut- orial leader about difficulties.
* A Tour of the Physics Department Museum
The information contained in this text would be useful if it were read. However, the amount of print is discouraging to a student who accessedthe com- puter to expand his or her understanding of physics past the textbook.
** Physics Lecture Demonstrations
Graphics in the menu and in the individual demonstrations are very ap- pealing and grab the attention of the user. However, the illustrations are not connected to formulas or symbols that would show students how this knowledge of concepts may be used to solve num- erical problems. There are many different options available to the student. For each topic there are 20 different illustrations which expand a different concept. The text that accompanies the illustrations provides further explanations. Students also have the options of watching a video or reading text which ex- plains what would happen in the video. The variety of visuals available covers more styles of learning.

Ingredients of a Great Computer-Augmented Introductory Physics Course

The following are examples and ratings of tools that professors in universities across Canada and the world are using in their physics programs.

Tests and questions

**Practice Test #2
The multiple choice method of answering this test attracts students. The teacher is not involved in this endeavor at all, because the answers to the questions are already in the computer. The student can answer as many or as few questions as he or she wishes. The students get immediate feedback as to the number of correct and incorrect responses. The questions often refer to the previous lectures, which gives students the incentive to go to lectures. The test is lacking because if an answerwas wrong, the student would not be told what to change or why it was wrong.
***Get your grade
The students can see what their marks to date are. This gives them an idea of the results of their efforts and work.
**Test #1, September 14, 1995.
This is a list of all the applications of the information and formulas learned during a specific time period. The student may use the summary to guide inher method of studying. She can practice questions which cover each of the applications in the summary. This lacks links to take students to websites which would illustrate each application.
***Landing on Target...
In this interactive compliment to the lecture, students can interact with the computer without fear of criticism. The pictures and complementary script guides the students through applications, theory, quizes, exploring further info and ends with connecting formulas to the theories. It challenges students to understand the information as opposed to memorizing methods of performing questions.
**Test answers
The answers to a term test are put on-line after the test has been marked and given back to the students. Note the multiple choice format of the test which stresses understanding of concepts. The answers to the test are highlighted in bold. Not all of the questions were answered, and there were no links to connect students to information that would explain why a specific choice was correct or not.
**A Solutions to the Excercises
Although this is not physics work, the concept of having answers to as- signments is applicable to physics. The answers are put on-line after the assignments have been marked and handed back. This gives students the opportunity to correct their mistakes. The answers are not simply given to the students, but there is a brief explanation. The format of this resembles the answers in the backof a physics study guide. However, there is too much text in one space, a problem which could be solved using links to other pages.


***Welcome to Physics 152
An interesting format or web-page attracts the attention of students. The options are easy to read and look inviting and fun rather than intimidating.
*** Principles of Protein Structure Using the Internet
A most interesting and eye-catching info page! Included on this page are boxes which group the information which follows it into simple categories. Some subjects in the cate-gories include assignments, a course syllabus, noticeboard, email discussion lists and student consultants names. The set-up is simple, direct and easy to use.
**Lecture List
This is a brief lecture list that has key words but also has links to fur- ther information. It conveys the information but gives students the options of further exploration. There is too much text information that is unnecessary, which creates a cluttered appearance.

Course notes on-line

2 Procedural Programming
This set of lecture notes, although long and tending to run-on, has merit due to the numerous links. A person who is looking at the lecture summary may find further hints or information by clicking on a link, which takes them to another screen of information.
A Solutions to the Excercises
The solutions to the exercises are only beneficial to those frequent computer users who like to have everything on line.

Getting students involved

*Physics Unit Conversion Page
This is an interesting way to get help with homework. Using a conversion code, any value with given units can be converted to another measurement of the same category of units. Unfortunately, the loading of the tool and waiting period for the computer to perform the calculation take longer than it would to do the conversion by hand.
**PPS '96 Student Groups
Students in this biology course have the option of receiving help in group internet sessions or by sending questions and receiving answers by email. The students are listed in the course with a background biography (unneccessary for large physics courses) along with their email addresses.
**CAEME - The Physics Museum
The Caeme Physics museum is both an extended knowledge resource bank for students and an interesting interactive tutial to further understanding. It has been suggested that com- puter tutorials should not replace real-life tutorials and labs due to the different learning styles of students and the need for group collaboration on questions. However, the computer tutorial may be used as a preparation before the actual lab, by allowing further understanding of the lab procedure.
***The CPU Project - About
The goals of the CPU project at the San Diego University are to bring together teachers and professors from all levels in an effort to test and evaluate new methods of teaching sciences using interactive computer media. The focus of the material being tested is hands onsimulations, computer simulations and allowing teachers the ability to change/modify/input information into an existing model.
***Landing on Target...
This is an excellent way for students to review past lectures. In this interactive program, the students write information in the boxes as the lecture proceeds. This material is never marked and so the student has the opportunity to brainstorm without criticism.
***OOP/C++ Class Students
Each student in the class has the opportunity to put their name, e-mail ad- dress and a short comment on-line. This brings students to together and allows them to share information and problems with each other by talking in person or through e-mail. This makes the task of an- swering questions and understanding physics concepts less frightening.
**The Particle Adventure
Atoms and their properties are explained through this computer-interactive program. Users have input and control over the activities, which illustrate the theories surrounding the atom and its components. It plays like a videogame, which explains its attraction.
**UCSB Astrophysics Web SunSpots Interactive Lab
Sunspots and their properties and explored by students, who are then tested on thier knowledge. The students interact with the simulations and make numerical computations which are marked and given back to the students. This type of activity has potential to augment labs by pre-explaining the theory and the workings of labs.

Et cetera

Further information that was found on internet proved interesting enough to occupy space on this document. The first is a report on the collaboration between professors at different universities concerning the use of computers in their courses. The second is the results of a study into the effectiveness of computer-augmented learning. Lastly, as the internet is such a vast resource, several unexplored links are available for discovery.

Working with other universities

Proceedings of First Educator Workshop - CSEP

Results of Interactive media

IUB Physics Education research
Richard Drake at Indiana university uses the Socratic Dialogue Interactive (SDI) tutorial system to increase collaboration between students. Qualitative studies include student's evaluations and the comparison of test results of conceptual understanding and problem-solving ability. The results of the testing show that the SDI method is 1.5 to 2.8 times more effective than normal (passive) teaching methods. Qualitative analysis shows a general improvement of teaching and the methods of surveying were videotaped individual interviews and lab sessions, and the comments of other professors observing the course.

Interesting Physics Links

Magellan Internet Guide
The Magellan Search guide allows internet users to explore physics and other subjects.
"Physics 152 Lab Links"
This is a list of all the possible links (leads to further information) available on the internet for those interested in physics. It is obvious from this why the internet is often termed the "world wide web".


In conclusion, what works and what doesn't work at both Brock University and others across the world has been investigated. Internet-augmented resources can be used to improve the lecture, lab and tutorial components of an introductory physics courses. The different capabilities which the internet makes available can be used to improve clarity and understanding in students, and to excite and inspire further exploration.

This page is:
Last reviewed by: on 24-Oct-96 at 21:13
1996 © Judy Austin,