PHY138 Representative Assembly

Friday afternoon October 14 PHY138 staff and Representatives from the tutorial groups met for just over an hour to discuss issues of organisation and communication in the course. About 25 Representatives attended. Dr. Savaria and Prof. Strong were also there. This document summarises our discussion.

The session was very animated and extremely positive. We should all thank the Representatives who worked very hard on your behalf. We began with small groups of 5 - 6 Representatives discussing amongst themselves for 20 minutes or so; this was followed by the entire group spending about 15 minutes assembling a list of five major issues. During these phases only the Representatives were present. Then PHY138 staff met with the group to discuss the issues they had identified.

We discussed five issues.

1. Making the SideScreen PowerPoint Slides Available Before Class

First, doing this requires that the slides are done well before class. Sorry, but I'm not nearly that organised.

There are other issues here however.

For a descriptive science like biology, using PowerPoint as the primary way of delivering content is appropriate: BIO150 does things exactly this way. For an analytical science like physics, I am not convinced that this is true. That is why the primary content is delivered on the main screen, and may include the Journal program, Flash animations, In-Class Questions, etc. We use the side screens to allow you to glance back at previously developed material in an easy and natural fashion. This approach means, for example, that so far this term 60% of the slides have been either announcements which are also given in the class summary or just figures from the textbook. (The 60% number does not include the first class, which was nearly all announcements.)

Professor Strong, who will be doing the 3rd quarter of PHY138 this year, reported that when she was teaching PHY140 she tried doing this. She said that it didn't work out too well. She also reported that some students said that having the hardcopy of the slides made it too easy to "tune out" during class.

Last year another Professor did the 3rd quarter and the classes were 100% PowerPoint based, while the other 3 quarters were done largely the way we have been doing it this term. Students reported that the PowerPoint method was not as effective for their learning.

2. Tutorials

Some Representatives said that the Student Workbook was "useless." This surprised me, because the tutors have been reporting that the workbook is very helpful. A common comment from tutors is that the activities of the workbook prompt students to ask exactly the questions that need to be clarified before we find out that there is confusion about a concept on the test.

An example is the confusion regarding the Tarzan activity. The difficulty of this surprised us, and you may have noticed that it has become one of the central examples that we have used repeatedly in class.

There also seemed to be some confusion about the role of tutorials. These are supposed to be the one place where you can meet and discuss the content of the course with other students and a Physics graduate student TA. Such small group discussion has been proven to be extremely important for most students' learning, and can not occur in the context of Convocation Hall. The tutorials are not intended to be mini-lectures.

In the context of this discussion and also a couple of other times during the session people asked for more worked examples. However, there is a question which needs to be addressed:

In place of what?

If I do more worked examples in class, I have to quit doing some of the things I'm currently doing. What? I'll also mention that almost the entire class on Wednesday October 5 was spent doing a series of 4 related examples.

If the tutors go through worked examples, then where do you get an opportunity to discuss the content?

So, for now I don't think we will be changing the structure of the tutorials. We are, of course, interested in your opinions on this. We will also check back in with you via another Representative Assembly later in the term.

3. Student Questions in Con Hall

There were a couple of issues that arose about the questions that students ask in Con Hall via Lulu.

First, I have not done a very good job of dealing with them at appropriate times. In the future I will try to answer the questions only when we have finished a discussion of a particular section so that I don't break the "storyline" of the development of a concept.

The second issue is whether a particular question is one that a large percentage of the class shares. Triage means filtering to decide what to deal with and what not to deal with. We talked about various methods to triage the questions.

Here is what we're going to try. For each question the class will vote on whether to deal with it or not. If a large percentage of students do not want me to deal with the question, then students who want to discuss it can meet with meet with me out of class to talk about it.

4. MasteringPhysics

In general there was agreement that after an initial "learning curve" in using the software, that it really is an extremely useful resource to aid your learning. This is consistent with surveys from last year, where towards the end of the year 75% of PHY138 students rated the software as either valuable or extremely valuable for their learning.

However, there was an excellent suggestion. The hints are often wonderful tutorials on the physics. However, if you answer a question without using the hints, then after submitting your final answer you can not see them. We have contacted the developers of the software asking them to always make all hints available to you after submitting your final answer to a question, whether you used them or not.

5. Tutors

We have an excellent group of tutors in PHY138. However, some are less experienced than others so perhaps are somewhat less excellent than others. If there is a problem with your tutor we want to know about it. In order to take effective action we must know who the tutor is.