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Active Learning Through Technology (Alert!): Modern Physics

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Innovations in Teaching Upper-Level Physics

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.156.1 - 11.156.11



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Paper Authors


Gerald Rothberg Stevens Institute of Technology

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Gerald (Jerry) Rothberg is a professor of physics and a professor of materials engineering in the department of chemical, biomedical and materials engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Active Learning through Technology (ALERT!): Modern Physics

I. Introduction

Large, conventionally taught lecture classes typically suffer from poor attendance and weak student performance. This is the situation at Stevens and throughout the United States. “Even with an outstandingly effective and charismatic lecturer …. Lecture attendance at the end of the term in …. introductory courses hovers around 50%. No matter how strongly one feels about the intrinsic worth of the lecture format, it is hard to argue that it is broadly effective when half of the students do not attend the lecture. This lack of student engagement is arguably one of the major reasons for the failure rates (typically 15%) in these introductory courses.” (emphasis added)1,2

Large lecture classes certainly make economic sense. We must find how to make them work well. “….. much research has shown the standard lecture-format class to be ineffective as a vehicle for learning. Effective learning requires the students to be active participants in the process, not passive listeners.”3

In this paper I describe a project to significantly improve student learning in my one semester sophomore course in modern physics for engineers by introducing technologies to enhance active learning. None of the technologies is new; I only am describing my own experiences with a particular combination, a classroom response system in conjunction with a tablet computer, a combination which is also not new. The Physics Education Research Group, University of Massachusetts, web site provides many links to information about the technologies used here as developed by themselves and a number of universities and companies4-6. Another excellent source, emphasizing their own product, Classroom Presenter, is the Computer Science Department, University of Washington7-10.

The course itself might be unique in that it carries only two credits, is scheduled to meet only twice per week in fifty minute sessions, and still is expected to educate students to a depth comparable to the typical preceding courses in mechanics, electricity and magnetism. To provide additional opportunities for problem solving, I hold an additional, strictly voluntary, recitation session each week.

The course was created by me in response to curriculum changes in the School of Engineering and taught for the first time in the fall 2004 semester. The population is about 180 sophomores in the fall and about 100 sophomores in the spring. The spring class consists of coop students who have had one semester of work experience. The project described here was initiated in the fall 2005 semester.

II. Basis in Educational Research

The project is based on the educational philosophy known as constructivism, and the methodology for carrying it out is active learning. The following quotation provides a good definition of constructivism in the present context. “We can briefly summarize the constructivist view of how knowledge is acquired as follows: All individuals must construct their own

Rothberg, G. (2006, June), Active Learning Through Technology (Alert!): Modern Physics Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--712

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