Physics and Astronomy


A WebCT Shell for the Astronomy Lab Classroom

Basic and Applied Sciences
Chuck Higgins

In an effort to enhance our current Astronomy 1031 lab course, I propose to develop web/computer component course materials via WebCT in the form of

(I) online pre-class readings, and

(II) interactive in-class computer tutorials and worksheets. The WebCT Shell developed through this grant will be shared with all faculty members who teach sections of the Astronomy 1031 lab course. The instructional goal is to create a better environment for student learning by

(1) requiring that the students come to class better prepared, and

(2) to use technology to allow peer-based learning during the class time. Using WebCT to implement Online tutorials and quizzes, and by adding interactive computer worksheets, we hope to allow the students to learn more and have better retention of the material. These ideas come from an overarching goal to use technology to improve the quality of the general science courses, especially for non-science majors, and to encourage more students to pursue science and mathematics in their careers at MTSU.

Work Completed

Twelve pre-lab reading materials and lab quizzes were developed for the Astr 1031 lab class during Fall 2005. Three hours course release time was used for this activity.

All pre-lab reading material was put on the Astronomy Lab website for students to access at any time.

All lab quizzes were converted to Online quizzes using WebCT course products.


Out of ten sections of the Astr 1031 lab course, we tested the WebCT quizzes in two sections, the sections taught by Dr. Higgins and Dr. Paul Lee. Instructors in all other sections gave the quizzes on paper.

All five instructors teaching agreed that the pre-lab reading material and the quizzes were extremely helpful in getting the students prepared for class. <li>The class periods went more smoothly because of the better student preparation. This allows the student to better understand the concepts and learn more.

As expected, the peer teaching and learning is helpful for the students. <li>It also allowed more flexibility in the overall course grade for the students because the newly added quizzes counted approximately 10% of the grade.

Lessons Learned

WebCT is a very useful tool, but since I am not an expert, I still find it clumsy to use. For example, I could not figure out why two of my students could not get access to my WebCT quizzes. I specifically checked this and could not solve this problem. For them I had to give paper quizzes.

The students did not seem to be bothered by the requirement to read "extra" material to help them prepare for the lab.

Future Goals

We would like to add more interactive computer worksheets and activities to further enhance our laboratories.

For some of our labs, we would like to develop a complete computer-based lab where the students enter data, do calculations, make graphs, answer questions, and write results and conclusions all via the computer. <li>Beginning in Fall 2006 we hope that all instructors are using the WebCT material for the Astr 1031 lab course.

We were not able to administer the diagnostic test to assess student learning. We hope to complete this in subsequent semesters, but we will probably attempt this in the Astr 1030 lecture course rather than the laboratory course.= 


Web-Based Supplementary Instruction for a Hands-On Science Course

Basic and Applied Science
Paul Lee

Lee will be adding QuickTime clips to current material so that students can practice virtual experiments, data acquisition and interpretation. He will be using Claris Home Page and Quick Time to develop web pages for science courses. 


A Technology-Based Pedagogy for First-Semester College Physic

Basic and Applied Sciences
Victor J. Montemayor

Montemayor will be completing designs for interactive spreadsheets and web-based lectures for use in introductory Physics courses. These spreadsheets and web pages will allow professors to utilize lectures for discussions of the course materials and provide students with hands-on and collaborative experience in solving problems in Physics.

The proposal A Revised First-Semester Course for the College Physics Sequence was funded for the summer session of 1999. Much was accomplished towards the goals of this proposal - much, it should be pointed out, that would not have been accomplished without the funding that was provided. The work that was proposed and the degree to which it was completed is summarized below. The proposed work was broken down into four components. This summary of work completed follows suit.

Polish lecture web site and corresponding EXCEL spreadsheet programs.

This work required much more time than expected - as should have been expected. The &quot;polishing&quot; involved much rewriting and planning for this Fall semester in which the entire first-semester offering of the College Physics sequence at MTSU is switched to the new pedagogy. This work went very well. The finished web site can be viewed at!phys231 .

Determine an efficient means of recording and posting grades on the web.

During the summer I attended the MTSU Instructional Technology Institute workshop on Management of Grades using Web-based CGI Scripts by Robert Dougherty, who is in charge of the (foreign) language lab. I attended this workshop with Dr. Ron Henderson, who is also a faculty member in the department of Physics and Astronomy and the of our departmental server (the home of my course web site). Through this workshop and discussions held after the workshop, we determined to write software that would take grades from a pre-specified format in Microsoft EXCEL and write to an HTML file that would allow the students to access only their grades. As opposed to the method used in the language lab, our method will not store the grades as the instructor's grade book on the web (where they could be altered by industrious students), but rather only written to a file there - they would be stored on the faculty member's own computer in his or her own grade book (which is also being developed in-house). Any changes or updates to the grades would then be loaded into the HTML file, so the student could not access and change his or her grades. The writing of the HTML code will be done by Dr. Henderson, which makes things very efficient for me.

To assemble data from the Force Diagnostic Test administered for the past two years.</b><br> The data from the national assessment instrument called the Force Diagnostic Test have been collected and paired (two tests are given to each student - one at the very beginning of the class, and one at the very end; since not all students complete the course, some time was required to match up tests from the past two years). A database (Microsoft Access) has been designed, but has not yet been completed. The comparison of the reduced data with national results therefore has yet to take place. This work will proceed during the Fall semester of 1999.

To start planning the application of the new pedagogy to the College Physics II course.</b><br> This work has begun, albeit at a very rudimentary level, and will continue in earnest during the Fall semester of 1999. This will be a very non-trivial application. From the initial stages of the planning, it is quite clear to me that this application will result in a very nontraditional coverage of topics as well as ordering of those topics covered as compared to what is currently done across the nation. I am very excited at the prospect of continuing the design and development of the materials to be used in the second-semester of the College Physics sequence. I must admit, however, to a bit of apprehension at starting the work that went into the development and implementation for the first-semester course all over again... 


Interactive Web Learning Using CyberProf

Basic and Applied Sciences
William H. Robertson

Robertson will be using CyberProf to develop a series of web-based instructional modules that will permit students to study a narrowly-defined topic and then to assess their understanding by taking on-line quizzes in his Physics of Music course (Physics 160). The on-line quiz results will supply immediate feedback to the student as well as being recorded in an electronic grade book accessible to the instructor.

The initial phase of this project—the preparation of a select number of topics suitable for web based instruction—has been successfully completed. The next test will come during the Fall semester 1998 when the units will be tested by use in my Physics 160 course The Physics of Music. As explained in the text of this report the software product WebCT was substituted for Cyberprof because distribution of the latter product was suspended at least temporarily. WebCT proved to be an excellent and versatile replacement for Cyberprof—installation was easy, the instructor interface was straightforward to learn and to use, and there is a powerful online testing and surveying facility. Although the success of this project will ultimately be determined by student response to this mode of learning, the process of putting together this on-line material has provided a couple of insights: the software to manage Web based courses is rapidly evolving and it is difficult to pick out the best package at this early stage. the process of adapting material from classroom to web-based presentation is very time consuming—akin to writing a book!