Data Modeling Lab Based on COVID-19 for IPLS Students

When UMass-Amherst decided to go to remote learning after spring break, I needed one more lab for my Physics 132 – IPLS II course. This course has a traditional setup where the lab is run semi-autonomously from the “lecture” portion of the course. For the last two iterations, however, the lab has been run with a different focus based on data analysis. Thus, a lab focused on understanding the exponential growth patterns and fitting the parameters fit well with our education objectives and could be done with publicly available data.

While this may not be “physics” per se, I think that such a lab makes sense:

  • It uses all of the skills our students have been developing over the course of the semester.
  • It is topical.
  • It is probably of interest to the predominately life-science students who comprise the student population of 132.
  • It will hopefully help students see that the skills they learned in physics lab are not unique to physics, but instead valuable to all of science.

The lab we gave to students can be found here as as pdf. Feel free to use etc. If you are an instructor and would like access to the full suite of materials including the data we used, the solutions, and rubric, please complete this form and we will get them to you.

Remote version of Physics 132 in response to COVID-19

TL;DR: My syllabus addendum for the second half of the semester can be found at this link. For comparison and reference, the original syllabus is at this link. (I hate it when people bury the information you really need behind a bunch of stuff. Recipe websites, I am looking at you! I don’t want your entire life story.)

March 9-13: what a week before spring break! At the beginning of the week, things were very much up in the air. By Wednesday morning the other four colleges in the 5-College Consortium (Amherst, Hampshire, Mt. Holyoke, and Smith) had all closed for the semester, with UMass still undecided. Then, mid-day on Wednesday, we found out (via the Boston Globe!) that UMass would be doing remote learning for essentially all undergraduate courses for the two weeks after spring break until April 3. By Friday, it was announced that all courses (including graduate courses) were to go remote until the end of the semester and all faculty were to avoid campus as much as possible.

How to teach a two sections of a team-based learning class with a total enrollment of 458 remotely? Moreover, what about those students who may not have internet off campus, are in time-zones with 11 hour time differences, or now have new additional responsibilities? One of the things you quickly learn about teaching large courses: minimizing special cases is key. You simply cannot deal with each student individually. There are simply not enough hours in the week. You must find systems that work for most people giving you the bandwidth to deal with the individual students who most need your attention.

In my class, the material that can be placed into short videos already has: those videos form my prep homework. Replacing class with a series of video lectures and online homework would rob my students of yet one more community they have; I know for a fact that some of the teams in my course have become quite close. I cannot rob them of that right now.

So how to do this while at the same time acknowledging that many of my students are working under less-than-ideal circumstances? A combination of synchronous and asynchronous delivery modes. There are a few small carrots to attending the synchronous modes, but no punishments for not being able to attend them. This encourages students to attend the synchronous modes if they can, but allows for other options for those who cannot. Finally, I thought a “syllabus” was important, I want to be as clear to my students as I can to try to put their minds at ease.

We will see how this goes.