Using WWW Resources in Teaching Physics
Focus: Introductory Physics
by Judy Austin, firstname.lastname@example.org
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
- ** 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
- 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,
- *** 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
- ** 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
- * 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
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
- ***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
- ***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
- 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.
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
- "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
© Judy Austin, email@example.com