Executive Summary

Over 100 participants, primarily physics instructors, gathered at the American Center for Physics in College Park, MD on June 1-2 to learn about the benefits and challenges of distance education and online learning. Portions of the workshop were devoted to exploring the various resources available to instructors of online classes, including online textbooks, online labs, and homework systems that provide and grade homework problems. Participants also discussed some of the practical challenges of teaching online, including assessing learning and ensuring academic integrity.

An emergent theme in the workshop was the role that faculty will play in online learning. Participants and presenters frequently voiced concerns that some universities may seek to replace faculty-taught courses with large-scale online courses. Such a change, if widespread, would radically alter the education experience for students. Participants wanted APS and the physics community to (1) make clear that engaged, quality physics instructors are essential for effective physics teaching, and (2) provide information about the added value of personal interactions in teaching.

Three emerging challenges were discussed in detail: academic dishonesty, assessment, and faculty buy-in. These three interrelated challenges are a focal point for most concerns about the implementation of DE/OL.

Workshop attendees proposed next steps for APS. Three of these in particular garnered strong support, with at least 25 separate suggestions for each of the following: maintaining a centralized database, identifying and promoting best practices, and providing venues for further discussion of DE/OL issues.

Throughout the workshop, participants generated questions about the future of distance education. In particular, they identified two questions that the physics community needs to answer in order to move ahead: (1) What are the promises and risks of distance education and online learning? and (2) How do we provide participatory learning experiences online?

The workshop was supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.  Steering Committee members included:

  • Jacob Clark Blickenstaff, American Physical Society
  • Noah Finkelstein, University of Colorado-Boulder
  • Theodore Hodapp, American Physical Society
  • Edward Prather, University of Arizona
  • David Pritchard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Carl Wieman, University of British Columbia