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Active Learning Through Technology (Alert!); Modern Physics. An Update

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Technology in the Physics Classroom

Tagged Division

Engineering Physics & Physics

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.170.1 - 12.170.8



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Paper Authors


Gerald Rothberg Stevens Institute of Technology

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Gerald Rothberg is a professor of physics and a professor of materials engineering in the Department of Chemical, Biomedical, and Materials Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology.

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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. An Update


In a previous ASEE presentation the author described first results in using some technological innovations in a one semester course in modern physics for sophomore engineering students. That paper compared results from two semesters before using the technology with one semester using it. In this paper results are given for two additional semesters. Data for 233 pre- project students and 298 project students are now available. Several important aspects of the conduct of the course were changed during this time, so the conclusions from the data are somewhat subjective. Nevertheless, others contemplating using similar technology might find the discussion useful. The technology has made it possible to increase conceptual understanding while making a small improvement in grades. The best students did significantly better. The most beneficial outcome provided by the technology was the in-class information about student misconceptions, making it possible to improve the teaching. Some examples are given.


In the fall 2005 semester the author initiated project ALERT! to improve learning in a one semester lecture course in modern physics for sophomore engineering students. By increasing emphasis on active learning I hoped to improve conceptual understanding, improve attendance, and raise grades. A previous paper1 presented the basis of this project in the body of educational research, described the software and hardware introduced, and discussed results from slightly more than one semester of operation. That discussion and references will not be repeated here. Those early results made for cautious optimism. The present paper compares three semesters with use of this project to teach 298 students and two semesters with 233 students before introducing ALERT! and gives some general results relevant to teaching modern physics. At the time this paper is being written, at the end of the fall 2006 semester, only slight improvements in grades have been achieved except, possibly, among the best students. This lack of significant enhancement is due in part to increased emphasis in tests on conceptual understanding, and to the freedom given to the students to learn outside of class, among other factors.

It is necessary first to give some background information. This course is the last in a three course sequence. Until now the sequence began in the first semester of the freshman year. Recently the start was shifted to the second semester, and these students will show up first in this course in spring 2007. The course is given each semester, until now to about 250 students per year. In the spring the class comprises coop students who have spent one semester off campus. Beginning spring 2007 the course becomes an elective and will have about 150 students per year.

The course carries two credits, whereas the previous two courses each carry three credits. Officially only two lecture meetings per week are scheduled, but a third, strictly voluntary recitation session immediately follows the second lecture. Topics fall into three groups: electromagnetic waves, including interference and diffraction; quantum mechanics, including

Rothberg, G. (2007, June), Active Learning Through Technology (Alert!); Modern Physics. An Update Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2556

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