Introduction

An increasing number of US colleges and universities are turning to online course offerings and other versions of distance education for a portion of their courses. Physics departments are not exempt from the push for distance education and are putting substantial time and resources into online homework systems, video-recorded lectures, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Over 100 participants gathered at the American Center for Physics in College Park, MD on June 1-2 to learn about the opportunities and implications of distance education and online learning for the physics community.


Over the course of the workshop, which lasted a day and a half, speakers primarily focused on online resources designed to enhance the classroom experience, and they presented what physics education research has to offer to optimize the effectiveness of distance education efforts. Some speakers, moreover, directly addressed the contentious topic of distance education and MOOCs.

A Sloan Foundation/Association of Public and Land-grant Universities survey found that nearly three-quarters of university presidents believe online learning is critical to their institution’s long-term strategy. This is consistent with the results of an informal survey conducted at the workshop, which showed that the impetus to offer more online physics courses comes primarily from administrators outside the department (deans, provosts, presidents, and others). Of the responding workshop participants, 87% noted that they anticipate their department, in response to this pressure, will increase its use of distance education in the next three years; the other 13% anticipate their use of distance education will remain the same in the short term.

This report describes the topics discussed during the workshop, including types of online learning, course components, and emerging challenges. The report concludes with participants’ suggestions for open questions that need to be answered and proposed next steps for APS. Appendices provide the list of online resources discussed at the workshop, the workshop program, and the list of participants.