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The online text and the flipped class November 29, 2017

Posted by mareserinitatis in teaching, education, physics.
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I ran into an issue earlier this year when I discovered that the ISBN I’d given to the bookstore for one of my classes was incorrect.  I thought I had provided the number for the full book but it turns out that it was only volume 2.  Since I figured this out a week before class and several students had already purchased the book, I felt like it was too late to go back and ask them to get volume 1 separately (which, I will also add, was a bit more expensive).

I decided this was a perfect time to try an online textbook and see how it went.  I thought this was particularly nice since it was free and no one could say they didn’t have the book.  While there are many advantages to the book, overall I’ve not been happy with it.

The first issue is that, as much as I hate to admit it, the published textbooks are a lot more comprehensive and rigorous.  They provide better overall explanations and the quantity and quality of example problems is much better.

The second and bigger issue, which may be somewhat specific to my class, is that online textbooks don’t really work well in class.  I teach a flipped class format and usually have students do problems out of the book in groups.  With a textbook, it only takes one person in a group to have a textbook, and that seems to work fine.  If they don’t have the tools to work the problems, they can go back into the text and find the answers.

With an online textbook, this process is more of a hassle.  First, only students who have laptops with them can access the book.  This is actually a fairly small percentage of my students (less than a 1/4), and depending on how they are arranged, there may be several groups without a laptop available.  I’ve started printing out the problems and making copies for each group.  The other difficulty is that students don’t have a place to look things up.  While some of my students take copious notes of the readings before class, that is also about a quarter of the class, and the rest don’t have any resources if they don’t have notes or a laptop/phone.

There are a couple positives to the online book, the primary one being that it’s free and so students aren’t going to be coughing up $200-$300 for a text.

Accessibility and convenience is not a clear benefit, contrary to what I thought.  The primary issue is that I have a lot of students who travel for sports.  While I thought the text being online would work better, not all of them carry laptops with them when they travel (for good reason).  They will, however, take textbooks with them.  I’d say the convenience issue is actually a draw between textbooks and online texts.

Overall, when I checked with the class, most of the students said they would rather have a regular textbook despite the cost.  That is my preference, as well, but it always helps to get student feedback.  I am not ruling it out for future classes, but I think the quality of the text would have to be substantially better to overlook the inconvenience caused by using it in a class with this format.

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My kingdom for a tutor (not Tudor)! February 24, 2017

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, education, physics, science, teaching.
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I’ve been very quiet.  There’s good reason for that: prepping for new classes is a lot of work.

Specifically, I’m teaching university physics for the first time, and I have to admit that it’s very different from the other side of the (hypothetical and totally non-existent) podium.  I’m also doing it as a flipped class, which is adding an extra layer of challenge as finding good videos is a particularly large time-suck.  (No, it’s not faster than writing my own notes…but it does seem to be more effective.)  Part of the reason it’s taking so much time is that I am spending a lot of time trying to figure out exactly where my students are at.  I can definitely tell that this is a struggle for the ones who haven’t had much calc before, which is a feeling I certainly can understand as I was in the same boat when I started college.  Unfortunately, we don’t have enough tutors who can handle physics to help everyone since our enrollment is way up. Not yet, anyway.

I am loathe to assume that someone who has insufficient math is not necessarily capable of passing physics.  (After all, almost everyone I know says that you learn as much calc in physics as you do in an actual calculus class, a viewpoint which has a certain amount of merit.)  As a result, I told students who didn’t do so well on the first test that I expected them to see me for weekly appointments.  (Note: I did not *require* them to…just said I expected it.  Not sure they understood the difference, but I figured it wasn’t worth explaining as most of them showed up.)  I think they weren’t too excited about it at first, but the ones who are showing up are doing so very regularly.  Apparently word got around, though, and even students who seem to be doing fairly well have started showing up, too.  My office hours have basically turned into giant study sessions.  (I think I need to start bringing donuts.)  I had half the class show up over a two day period for the latest homework.

I personally think this is good.  I am getting a sense for the kinds of things they have difficulty with and the overall frustration level has been decreasing, at least among the students coming in for help.  In particular, getting some help with reasoning and processes is more effective when it’s coming from someone who has been doing this stuff for a long time.  I’m tickled when they come in and automatically start doing the stuff I’ve been drilling them on (‘draw your free body diagram and then sum your forces!’) without any prompting.  I also never realized how much homeschooling my kids would come in handy: when you’ve supervised all grade levels of math, you end up picking up lots of handy tricks to make life easier.  I’m now able to pass those tidbits on to my students to help remedy some of the common computational issues I’ve run into.

I did tell them, however, that they better be prepared: next year, I will be teaching more classes, so they need to sign up to tutor the incoming freshman.  A couple of them laughed.  I don’t think they realized that I’m serious.

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