Teaching on the Web
Thomas D. Rossing
"Teaching on the Web" can
mean many different things, ranging from the use of the Internet
or a local network for homework and quizzes to courses that are taught
entirely on the Internet, sometimes from a remote site. There are
obviously advantages and disadvantages to using the Web, and there
are probably as many different opinions about it as there are teachers
who have tried it or who have avoided it. One thing is certain: we
can't just ignore the Web in physics teaching.
In the November issue of The
Physics Teacher are letters to the editor from three teachers
about their experiences teaching online. They vary widely, as you
might expect. One teacher lectured online and included a lot of
graphics to complement the online lectures. She is planning to
integrate online simulations (Java applets) into her weekly lessons.
Another teacher comments that "We do not use anything fancy-no
video, no voice transmission, no broadband methods. Instead, we
have very lively, constant (seven days a week) discussions about
the reading for the week." Each student is required to submit
at least three public postings per week. The third teacher has
had experience with students getting together online to work on
a lab as a group, but finds that this "does not always work
I am just getting my feet wet,
testing the waters online. I have used two different course delivery
systems (Blackboard and WebCT) in my courses, and I have attended
several workshops to learn about other systems and especially about
the experience of other physics teachers. I intend to employ Blackboard
again next semester, not because I think it is the best system but
it is the only system my university supports. Unless a physics teacher
is willing to devote a lot of time to writing Applets and other necessary
course development, it is probably the criterion that most physics
teachers will use to select a procedure.
In my course in Acoustics, Music
and Hearing, I require a pretest be submitted online several hours
before each unit (chapter) is discussed. Then the students submit
their homework online, and get immediate feedback, of course. I give
an exam on each module (3 or 4 chapters) plus a final exam in a proctored
setting in the computer laboratory. The class meets twice a week
to discuss the material and especially any difficulties they are
having. Attendance at these "voluntary" sessions averages
50-60% which isn't that much different from attendance at lectures
in other introductory classes.
One of the big advantages of
Web teaching is that supplementary material, especially video and
audio clips, can be placed in proper context online. I often show
an appropriate video in class and then urge the students to view
it online a second time (unfortunately Blackboard does not keep track
of individual "hits" so I don't know which videos they
This newsletter includes several
articles by physics teachers who have had considerable experience
with teaching on the Web. We hope that they will be useful to other
teachers who wish to incorporate the Web into their physics courses.
We hope that our readers who do not presently teach will also find
them interesting since this is such a rapidly developing area of
education. Perhaps they will stimulate discussion in this newsletter. Again,
we remind you that we would like to have more Letters to the Editor!
Thomas D. Rossing is
Professor of Physics at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL.
He has been an editor of the Forum Newsletter for six years.