You are teaching a class of students who are learning physics for the first time in their lives. What is important for them to experience? Using physics concepts? Doing physics experiments? Communicating physics ideas? “Thinking like a physicist”? How would you design a class to create these experiences?
Maybe you’d design a model-focused course that emphasizes laboratory experiences? And to that you might add video analysis; it’s just cool for students to take and process their own data. In my opinion, video analysis also helps students experience physics in a more authentic way. You might also have them write a few simulations that model the physical phenomena they are learning about. This gives students another “cognitive hook” to use when thinking and talking about physics.
And how many students are you teaching in this theoretical class? 10? 20? maybe 40? What about 40,000? Or more?
A MOOC with a lab
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am helping to do research in a massively open online course (MOOC). Our course is called “Your World is Your Lab”. By leveraging modeling, video analysis, and numerical computation, we are attempting to provide this type of authentic, scientific experience. Here’s the intro video for the course:
Now I am very skeptical of this MOOC business. But, I think it’s also important to know a lot about something before dismissing it entirely. That’s why I’m deeply involved in the planning of and research into this MOOC.
“Your World is Your Lab” is a different type of MOOC because it contains a home laboratory component. Students go out into the world, take video of some phenomenon, analyze it, and construct a video report of their observations and analysis. These reports are graded by their peers (i.e., other students taking the MOOC) and these laboratories constitute the major portion of the “grade” in this MOOC.
My main issue with MOOCs is that they perpetuate the transmissionist model of education (see below).
I think laboratory experience helps to bring in the constructivist model and by coupling that with “peer review”, we actually emphasize that doing physics is a social act.
Unfortunately, that is where it ends. Lectures are pre-recorded, interactions with the teaching staff are limited, and homework and exams are computer-based. So, we will have a pretty cool lab experience (if people can figure it out) and an average lecture experience.
Participation will vary greatly, and it’s unclear how many students (and how often they) will perform the laboratories. This is an ambitious undertaking; porting an entire introductory physics course to the MOOC format. That is why the research is so important.
Major media outlets (e.g., David Brooks in the NYT) are touting the coming digital education revolution, but it’s unclear if students will actually participate when the course looks like a real college course. Equally unknown is which students complete the course, what factors influence their success, and what they learn from these courses. To start answering these questions, we are collecting a variety of demographic data, answers to conceptual assessments, and affectual measures from students taking our MOOC.
I hope that some of you will sign up for the course and tell me what you think. Oh, and if you are a high school teacher who completes the course, you can earn 6 continuing education credits from AAPT.