Use Online Forums to Improve the Learning Outcomes of Physics Courses

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Michael Chen, Department of Physics

Timeframe: May 2013 to April 2014

Funding: $5,000

Courses addressed:

  • PHYS 101 – Physics for the Life Sciences I
  • PHYS 102 – Physics for the Life Sciences II
  • PHYS 120 – Mechanics and Modern Physics
  • PHYS 121 – Optics, Electricity and Magnetism
  • PHYS 130 – Physics for the Life Sciences Laboratory
  • PHYS 131 – Physics Laboratory I
  • PHYS 140 – Studio Physics: Mechanics and Modern Physics
  • PHYS 141 – Studio Physics: Optics, Electricity and Magnetism
  • PHYS 221 – Electromagnetics

Description: In this project, I will establish an online physics forum and study the effects of online discussions on the learning outcomes of first year physics courses. In the past, discussion forums, though an effective learning tool, due to the inability of handling multimedia files have been difficult to use in physics. To address this I have created a Canvas course/online forum that has a “Discussions” feature that supports equations images and video clips and a “Conferences’ feature that can be used for real time audio and video conferences.

The online forum will be integrated into existing courses and promoted by instructors and teaching assistants. Through discussion on the forum, students will discuss potentially challenging and confusing questions which will reflect exam questions. The activities in the forum will be recorded and analyzed to examine how this influences student performance in each course, and especially on specific topics within each course.

I will conduct this project in three phases: 1) a trial period to set up the forum and explore means to attract student participation; 2) with the help of consultants and students, running, improving, and fine tuning the forum while I also collect data; and 3) data analysis.

Questions addressed:

  • Do students who participate in the online discussions have higher marks on assignments and exams?
  • What are the most successful methods to engage students in online discussions?
  • What activities do students think are most beneficial?
  • What kinds of non-textual materials do students post?

Knowledge sharing: Results will be disseminated through the ISTLD and Physics websites. Presentations will also be made at SFU's Teaching and Learning symposium and potentially at national and international conferences as well.