FEd Fall 2001 Newsletter - Teaching on the Web

Fall 2001



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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 well."

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 view).

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.