1 About PPLATO

1.1 What is PPLATO?

PPLATO (Promoting Physics Learning And Teaching Opportunities) is a UK initiative to establish a set of computer-based resources to support the teaching of physics and physics-related maths topics at university first year and foundation year levels, either within a taught course environment or in individual self-study.

Although PPLATO began in 2004 the bulk of the resources were based on the existing FLAP (Flexible Learning Approach to Physics) material, written by the Open University in the mid-1990s. This has been supplemented by new self-assessment resources specially written by the universities of Plymouth and Salford. Understandably, some of the FLAP material in PPLATO may appear dated: for example, topics involving photography mention 'film' as the detection method - the digital camera has apparently not yet been invented!

Initially PPLATO was distributed on CD-ROMs in the Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) to teaching staff who then provided it as printed hand-outs to students. Later, it was made directly accessible via the web, although still as PDF files. A few modules contain instructions asking the student to print out particular pages so they can write or draw on them: this is still possible by opening the relevant figure(s) in a new browser window and then printing them.

Responsibility for hosting and maintaining PPLATO currently resides with the School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences at the University of Reading, where it has been converted into fully interactive web-based modules, which is what this Help page mainly refers to. However, the original PDF files are also still available HERE.

1.2 Target Audience

Although originally aimed at first year undergraduate and Foundation level students, much of the PPLATO material is also appropriate for trainee physics teachers and Sixth Form pupils.

1.3 Browser Requirements

A modern browser is required to properly view and interact with the PPLATO web pages. The table below lists which browsers and platforms it should work on (note that not all of these have been fully tested).

Browser Versions Notes
Internet Explorer 6.0+ (Windows)  
Firefox 3.0+ (Windows, MacOSX, Linux) Firefox pre 3.5 uses image fonts for equations.
Chrome 0.3+ (Windows, MacOSX, Linux)
Safari 2.0+ (MacOSX, Windows) PPLATO is developed on Safari 5 (MacOSX)
Opera 9.5+ (Windows, MacOS, Linux) Not tested.

2 Using PPLATO

The top level PPLATO pages contain the main PPLATO menu at the top, the contents of which are:

2.1 Home Page

The home page contains the master index to all FLAP and supporting modules, and is normally the starting point when navigating PPLATO modules. The index is arranged hierarchically, with modules grouped by named topic. Clicking on a topic will expand or collapse the list of associated modules (two buttons are also provided for convenience to expand or collapse ALL topics). Clicking on a module name will open the module in a new browser window.

2.2 Glossary

The FLAP component of PPLATO includes a glossary of terms used in the FLAP modules. This may be accessed directly by clicking on the 'Glossary' button at the top of any PPLATO module, or by clicking on any term highlighted in green in any FLAP module. This will open a pop-up window in your browser, which can be navigated in several ways:

Glossary entries consist of a term or expression followed by a list of one or more properties of the term, for example:

reflection coefficient

in: quantum physics
for: a stream of particles
encountering: a potential step or potential barrier
can be determined: from quantum mechanics. [PHYS 11.1]
is defined as: R = flux of reflected particles [PHYS 11.1] flux of incident particles

Many entries contain references to relevant FLAP modules, as in the above example.


Currently, only the FLAP modules have direct links to the Glossary. However, terms in the supporting tutorials may be explored by typing their name in the Glossary window or by using the browser's search facility (as above).

2.3 Feedback

A feedback page is provided for commenting on PPLATO and reporting errors, etc. If you are submitting a query please check the FAQs below first.

2.4 News

News and announcements about PPLATO.

2.5 Help

This page.

3 FLAP Modules

FLAP modules are set out as follows:

3.1 Fast-track Section

A series of questions (numbered, prefixed with 'F') to check whether you are already familiar with the concepts covered by the module.

3.2 Ready to Study? Section

A brief 'warm-up' to the main Tutorial section, which consists of a few questions (numbered, prefixed with 'R') to give you some idea of what to expect.

3.3 Text Section

The main part of the module. As well as explanatory material, this contains questions (numbered, prefixed with 'T') to test how well you have understood what has been covered so far. It also contains short 'seed' questions (unnumbered, denoted by a symbol) to make you think about what you have just learned - and occasionally what you are about to learn!

3.4 Closing Items Section

Summarises the material covered by the tutorial, lists your achievements, and ends with a series of questions to test your understanding of you have just learned.

3.5 Navigation

The usual browser tools, e.g. scroll bars, can be used to navigate up and down each page. The contents index in the left hand margin can be used as a shortcut to jump to named sections.

Each section heading contains a triangle symbol at the right hand side: click on these to jump to the top of the page.

Most modules contain internal links (these are highlighted in pink), which allow you to jump to named sections, figures, tables, or specific terms. Future versions of PPLATO will also include links between different modules.

3.6 Questions & Answers

All FLAP modules use the same method for revealing the answer to a question (including the 'seed' questions). This involves clicking anywhere within the box surrounding the question - except on a link, figure or information button i. Clicking again on the question will hide the answer, as will clicking on the open answer box. However, if you wish to reveal the answer to another question you can click on that question without needing to hide the previous answer, as this is done automatically.

3.7 Information Buttons

Clicking on an information button i will show the relevant information (or note) in the left margin. To ensure there is sufficient space to show long notes the current contents of the margin (normally the contents index) are temporarily hidden. To hide the note again, either click on the information button again, click anywhere within the note itself (except for any contained links or other information button(s) it may contain), or click on another information button to show its note instead.

Note: to avoid the contents index being hidden indefinitely any note left displayed will automatically disappear after about a minute.

3.8 Figures

Most FLAP modules contain figures, which are usually scaled down to suit the page content. To view them at a larger size simply click on them. This will display the full-sized figure (and caption) in a new window, which can be scaled like a normal browser window and printed using the browser's File->Print command. Note that some browsers may treat the new window as a 'popup' and not display it: if this happens you will need to turn off the 'prevent popups' option in your browser's preferences.

4 Supporting Modules

4.1 Content

These short self-assessment modules are slightly more interactive than the FLAP modules, and are designed to reinforce your competence in the relevant FLAP topics shown in the main index on the Home page. Each supporting module contains brief notes on various aspects concerning the topic, interspersed with worked exercises and exercises for you to do. All end with a multiple choice quiz to check your understanding of the subject.

4.2 Navigation

The usual browser tools, e.g. scroll bars, can be used to navigate up and down the module's page. The contents index in the left hand margin can be used as a shortcut to jump to named sections.

4.3 Questions & Answers

All supporting modules use a similar method to the FLAP modules for revealing answers to questions. However, in this case individual answers are revealed by clicking on the corresponding question. In other words, only one question is revealed at any one time, unlike in the FLAP modules where ALL answers to a set of questions are revealed. (Note: the FLAP Q&A method may be changed in the future to that used in the supporting modules).

5 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How are equations handled?

In the FLAP modules complex equations are coded in the LaTeX mathematical language and then converted 'on the fly' by the MathJax Javascript tool. The conversion can take a few seconds to tens of seconds, depending on how many equations there are in the module. To let you know how the processing is going, MathJax displays a small message box in the bottom left hand corner of the window.

Equations in the supporting modules are coded directly in CSS, although they may be re-written in MathJax in the future to improve their display quality.

Why doesn't the Glossary load sometimes?

This sometimes happens if the Glossary window is closed and then re-opened. To fix it, close the Glossary window, clear the browser's cache, and then re-open the Glossary using either the 'Glossary' button or clicking on a glossary term on any FLAP page.

Material © copyright 1996 Open University