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TEAL Project a Success; May Expand Next Year

By Vincent Chen

STAFF REPORTER

Despite a contentious initial argument over the program’s location, the Technology Enabled Active Learning Studio Physics Project (TEAL) is proving thus far to be quite a success, according to students and faculty.

“Our overall goal is to teach freshman physics better, so it’s more palatable,” said Professor of Physics John W. Belcher, Principal Investigator on the TEAL project at MIT.

Beginning this semester, Introductory Electromagnetism (8.02T) is offered in a prototype of the TEAL format. 190 students are currently enrolled in the class, 50 more than the 140 that had been expected. Course planners hope that all introductory physics courses will eventually be offered in the TEAL/Studio format.

An essential component of TEAL’s attempt to improve introductory physics consists of bringing hands-on experiments to the classroom. “We want to get experiments into the hands of students, to move away from textbook learning. With physics, you really need experience the phenomena,” said Peter Dourmashkin ’76, lecturer for the Experimental Study Group. “One of the big problems with lecture-based learning is that it is passive.”

TEAL attempts to use more “active engagement methods” in order to keep students interested in and attending the class. Traditionally, low attendance levels have been a problem with lecture format classes. “Attendance would be forty to fifty percent,” Belcher said. “From a faculty perspective, it’s demoralizing. People stroll in late and you know they won’t get anything out of the lecture.”

Students believe that the TEAL format is more engaging to students. “A lot of people in this class took AP Physics C and got 5’s. I’ve seen a lot of this before, but the experiments give me a reason to show up to class,” said Jennifer C. Novosad ’05, a student currently enrolled in 8.02T. “A lot of people learn by doing, so this is very good for them.”

“Even if the students have gotten Physics C credit and have seen this before, we really want to make sure people understand it,” Dourmashkin said.

“All this stuff is very subtle stuff, and it’s important to really do it yourself,” Belcher said, explaining the need for more hands on experience rather than a more theoretical mathematical approach. “Physics is tricky because there’s all this math,” said Dourmashkin. “Should it just be an applied math class, or should it be something else?”

“The labs are in context,” Belcher said. “The traditional lab is you go Thursday from four to six, it might be a week before or after you learn the material. Here, it is in context.”

TEAL to be revised next year

Belcher said that if the pilot is successful, the program will be revised based on feedback from this fall’s program, and offered again next year. “We’re doing a lot of assessment and evaluation,” he said.

“We’re learning while we’re doing this. We’re using techniques that others have used, but this is MIT, and the student body is somewhat different.” Students in 8.02T were given a pre-test before the beginning of the class, and will be given a post-test afterwards. The same was done for 8.02 last year, as the beginning of the assessment process.

“We’ve got a tremendous amount of support from the department and the institute,” Belcher said. “Both monetary and in terms of the space, which is most important.” The project is sponsored by the MIT Council on Educational Technology, and is funded by the d’Arbeloff Fund for Excellence in MIT Education, iCampus, the National Science Foundation, and varied other sources.

If all proceeds as intended, 8.02T will be offered again in fall of 2002, and then in spring of 2003, at which point it will enroll about 600 students in six sections. The TEAL format would then be extended to 8.01 in fall of 2003, and ideally by the fall of 2004, all introductory physics classes at MIT except for 8.012 and 8.022 will be offered in the TEAL format.