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Students Express TEAL Concerns

By Marissa Vogt


The Student Committee on Educational Policy hosted a meeting for professors and students on Wednesday to discuss the new Technology Enabled Active Learning version of Physics II (8.02).

The discussion centered on recent changes that were made to the class format after students began to express discontent with the TEAL version of the class earlier in the term. The professors also addressed students’ concerns regarding in-class laboratories; the Personal Response Systems, an interactive aspect of the lecture; and the group-based learning.

Professor John W. Belcher, responding to negative comments about the in-class experiments, said that the fact that “there hasn’t been a lab in a main-line course [at MIT] for 25 years” a “disservice to the students.” However, he also said that instructors have considered reducing the number of experiments in the future.

Belcher said that 8.02 TEAL was originally introduced in smaller, off-term classes, but that they have not received such a good reaction with it as a mainstream class.

“We’re running into things we didn’t see with two sections basically because we weren’t doing it with 550 people,” Belcher said.

“I think we probably have too many experiments in the course, so one of the things we were thinking of doing next year is to cut down on the number of experiments,” Belcher said.

Students responded favorably to the idea of fewer laboratories, saying that it would make it easier to draw connections between what they’re learning in lecture and the concepts that the experiments are supposed to reinforce.

“I think there’s too much emphasis on experiments.” said Chris P. Tostado ’06. “Large portions of the class are wasted time if the students aren’t getting the concepts in the first place. It’s hard to integrate lab with lecture.”

“We could’ve spent a lot more time explaining how all these materials come together, and we’re certainly going to work on that,” said Peter A. Dourmashkin ’76, associate director of the Experimental Study Group.

Meeting weighs PRS, group work

During the meeting, the students also expressed their opinions on PRS questions, which are answered electronically during class time, and how they could be used more effectively.

Physics Professor Michael S. Feld said that PRS questions are important teaching aides. “When I discuss material, and put up a set of questions, I can immediately see what has gone across and what hasn’t gone across.”

“I find that the PRS questions aren’t very helpful,” said Diana K. Sterk ’06. “In my class at least it doesn’t seem like we go over them enough afterwards.”

“A good PRS question is one that about 50% of the class gets it wrong, because then you know what you need to go over afterwards,” said Physics Professor David J. Litster.

“I think [PRS] helps where no one wants to ask a stupid question,” Litster said, but he said that the teaching staff is “not using it as effectively as we could”

Belcher said that they had also heard from the focus groups that students felt that they were expected to have previous knowledge of electricity and magnetism.

“I feel like I go to class and people expect me to know things already,” Sterk said.

Belcher said that one reason for this may be that in the past TEAL was only offered in the fall, to students who had either taken the class once before or who had seen some of the material in high school.

One aspect of TEAL that they have not received many complaints about, Belcher said, is the group format of the class.

In past semesters, Belcher said, they formed groups in the class based on pre-tests. Groups were assigned randomly this term, which caused conflicts in some groups.

Amelia E. Virostko ’03, who is in a group with two freshmen, said that she would prefer to group people --especially seniors -- by year to help match up ability and motivation levels.

“We have completely different motivational levels,” Virostko said of the other members of her group. “It would be so much better” to group people together by year.

“Next year I would favor redoing the groups at the midterm,” Belcher said. “We should have some mechanism whereby we can adjust groups if people are not happy, but we don’t.”

Litster said, however, that “in the real world, when groups don’t work out something is done about it. When groups don’t work out, we need to do something.”

Next fall, the physics department plans on introducing a TEAL version of 8.01 that would replace 8.01X.

Litster said that the issues they are experiencing with TEAL will be addressed for Physics I (8.01), and that the class will have fewer experiments than 8.02. Eventually, Litster said, TEAL will become the primary format for 8.01.

“Our hope is that it will become the mainstream” physics class, Litster said.