NYTimes Opinion 11 December 2019 – How Professors Help Rip Off Students: Textbooks are too expensive.
Another interesting article from the NYTimes related to our work here at the physedgroup. This most recent article talks about the fact that textbook prices have increased over 1000% since the 1970’s! The article specifically talks about economics, but many of the details mentioned are relevant to physics as well: $250 books, with $50 access codes for homework systems, all familiar refrains for undergraduates taking physics courses.
During the Spring 2019 semester, in addition to several changes in the lecture portion of the course, Paul Bourgeois, David Nguyen, and I continued to make changes to the laboratory portion of Physics 132. Motivated by this article from Physics Today, we decided to make our labs much more focused on teaching fundamental data analysis skills as opposed to physics concepts. We also added structural changes to the lab portion to promote in the students a sense of importance and ownership of what we were trying to teach. In general, I think that these changes were, by the end of the semester, positively received and provide a strong way forward for future lab developments in Physics 131 and other courses within our department.
The semester is (well) over, the grades are in, and the course evaluations have been returned. Based upon this feedback, I must say that I think the strategy used this past semester to apply the TBL strategy in the large lecture hall of Physics 132 was fairly effective. Our changes to the laboratory curriculum (developed in conjunction with Paul Bourgeois and David Nguyen) also seemed to be positive. This post will focus on the team-based learning aspect of the course in the lecture hall. I will reflect on what I did differently and how it compares to both the previous two semesters’ iterations of the course. I will also consider my other prior experience teaching in large lecture halls. The lab will be dealt with in a later post.
Note: this material has now been replicated on the page describing P132
The custom open textbook Physics 132: What is Light? What is an Electron? was just finished yesterday and is currently being used for Physics 132 this semester! Thanks to Emily Hansen for all of her hard work to help bring this to completion.
As we near the end of the semester, Physics 131 is once again finishing up with a unit on the statistical interpretation of entropy (not a typical topic for an introductory algebra-based course). This unit gets started with two labs: one systematically playing the famous Monty Hall problem and a second models the free expansion/compression of a gas using coins. While I do not have strong evidence for this belief, I feel that these two labs are the strongest two labs we do all semester. Students seem to really engage with these two labs and the act of doing the experiments really seems to add to student understanding in ways I do not see with other labs in the course. Even our much celebrated lab investigating the bio-mechanical ground-reaction forces of the human jump doesn’t seem to engage our students as much. Why? What is the “magic sauce” of these two labs? How can we modify the other labs of the course to achieve these same ends?