Effectiveness of Various Active Learning Components in Large First-Year Physics Courses

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Barbara Frisken, Department of Physics

Project team: Daria Ahrensmeier, Center for Educational Excellence, Sarah Johnson, Department of Physics, Cristina Cordoba, research assistant

Timeframe: January 2020 to February 2022

Funding: $3,900

Courses addressed:

  • PHYS 101 – Physics for the Life Science I
  • PHYS 102 – Physics for the Life Sciences II
  • PHYS 120 – Mechanics and Modern Physics
  • PHYS 121 – Optics, Electricity and Magnetism

Final report: View Barbara Frisken's Final Report (PDF) >> 

Description: The study will investigate the effectiveness of the different components used to teach first-year physics students. We would like to investigate how effective each of these components are; i.e. how much they contribute to student learning. These components include lectures, pre-lecture readings or videos with concept quizzes, clicker questions in class, online homework, hand-written homework, and weekly tutorials. For the instructor, it is a logistical challenge to create and coordinate all of these components, and also very time-consuming. Furthermore, students do not participate in all of these components, which may indicate that the time commitment is too demanding for them, or that they don’t see the value of specific course components. We hope that this study will inform our practice by identifying the course components that seem to be most effective for student learning, and help us to make the best use of everybody’s time.

Questions addressed:

  • What are the faculty members’ views of use and effectiveness of different components?
  • What are the students’ views of use and effectiveness of different components?
  • How do faculty and student views compare?
  • What can we learn about the effectiveness of the different components from participation and assessment data?
  • How do student views of effectiveness/value/use of course components compare to their behaviour (log/online data) and their course outcomes (grades)?

Knowledge sharing: We will share our results at a department meeting, at an ISTLD Poster Session, and a Teaching Matters Seminar. We will also compile a lecture slide outlining the benefits of the different methods to motivate students and a short (1-page) summary to share with faculty in the department. In addition, we plan to share our results with other physicists, for example, by presenting at the Canadian Association of Physicists Annual Meeting.

Keywords: Large first year physics courses; multiple learning tools; compare student and faculty perceptions of effectiveness; attempt to extract support for effectiveness from course data