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8.01 Changes Format to Smaller Lectures

By Daniel C. Stevenson
Associate News Editor

Physics I (8.01), a course taken by approximately 600 freshmen in the fall term, was extensively changed this past summer, according to Professor of Physics Wit Busza, designer of the new course. The lecture and recitation system was restructured, and a new 300-page study guide was written by Busza and Professor Susan Cartwright of Sheffield University in England, to reflect a model used by Princeton University.

Instead of three large lectures and two recitations each week, students will attend two small lectures of 16 students and one large lecture for all of the students. Busza will teach the large lecture, which will include demonstrations and provide "a little bit of a global philosophical outline" for the course, he said.

Another difference is that the new course will not have any graded homework problems, Busza said. "Instead, we monitor your progress through short weekly quizzes which contribute to your final grade," he said.

"The basic idea is that you are in charge of your own learning, while we provide you with the help and resources you will need," Busza said. This way, students can structure the course to take maximum advantage of what they already know and concentrate on material that is new and difficult, he said.

Another difference is the amount of help available for students, Busza said. Along with the extensive hints and solved problems in the study guide, "every Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. a horde of teaching assistants and faculty will be available to help" students with any questions, he said. Students are also encouraged to work together.

The changes to 8.01 will "provide an opportunity for the physics department to influence the MIT experience of all the students and lay a good solid foundation for the rest of their career at MIT," Busza said.

All problems solved

The study guide is designed to help "a complete spectrum of students," Busza said. However, it is not meant to be read cover to cover, he said. The textbook will be the book used in the 8.01L version of 8.01 last year: "University Physics" by Hugh D. Young, which received very good reviews fromstudents, Busza said.

Each unit in the study guide begins with a brief overview and a list of aims "detailing exactly what you're expected to know by the end of the week," according to the guide's introduction.

Following the aims is a set of sample quiz questions, a list of new ideas for the lesson, and a summary explaining the lesson along with cross-references to the textbook.

A set of fully-worked example problems and a set of 10 regular problems are followed by hints for each problem. Finally, complete answers are given to every quiz question, all of the problems, and the hints.

"Every quiz, exam, and final exam problem will all be from the problems" in the study guide, with minor modifications, Busza said.

Evaluation will take the form of nine weekly quizzes and two large review quizzes. Grades will be determined by the top seven of the nine weekly quizzes (35 percent), both review quizzes (25 percent), and a final exam (40 percent), Busza said. The pass/fail mark has already been set at 55 percent, he said.

Concerns addressed

One concern with the Princeton program is that the course "has become primarily a mechanism for teaching physics problems" and that less time is spent on discussing important concepts, said Princeton Professor Joseph Taylor in an interview last spring.

"To address that concern, we've added a lot of material which tries to explain what science is about using mechanics," Busza said. A major portion of the weekly main lecture will be an explanation of the importance and meaning of the topic in relation to physics and science in general.

A concern raised by Professor of Physics Walter H. G. Lewin, who taught the older version of 8.01 for three of the past four years, was that students would not be able to transfer between their lecture sections. "A large number of students are going to be unhappy," Lewin said in an interview last spring. Forbidding the transfers is an "insult to the students," he said.

However, the classes need to be kept small, Busza said, to make the course effective. "Because of that, there will be little flexibility in switching between lectures," he said.