For Instructors

Intended Audience

This remote learning lab manual was created to guide students in 200-level introductory/general physics courses toward meeting the first outcome in the science category of the Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer Degree:

Gather, comprehend, and communicate scientific and technical information in order to explore ideas, models, and solutions and generate further questions.

Design Process

Motivation

The labs were initially created in response to the remote learning conditions created by the Covid-19 Pandemic and were piloted during the 2020-2021 academic year. Based on instructor observations and student feedback, and with support from OpenOregon, the labs were improved, edited, and compiled into a General Physics Remote Learning Lab Manual.

First Design Goal: Adapt to Remote Learning

The lab design goal was to adapt existing F2F labs (already aligned to AAOT science outcome #1) for a remote learning environment without abandoning the pedagogical advantages provided by combining guided inquiry methods with specialized physics education equipment, such as digital sensors and unique demonstration apparatus. Therefore, many of the labs contain embedded videos of experiments being performed and links to open-access Google spreadsheets containing the data produced by equipment during the experiments. In many cases overlay effects have been added to videos to provide additional experimental parameters, direct students’ attention to important occurrences, or and assist with understanding of the experimental methods. The data in the spreadsheets has been edited to remove irrelevant data (e.g. acceleration data automatically collected by lab software before the release of a moving fan cart).

Second Design Goal: Maintain Guided Inquiry Format

As with the original F2F labs, the remote labs follow a guided inquiry format. The students are provided with the objectives of the lab and step-by-step guidance through the process necessary to meet the objectives. Students are asked to enter results, record progress, and answer critical thinking questions about their work. Adaptation to remote but quasi-synchronous learning included increasing the embedded guidance in the labs to a relatively heavy level. For example, the original F2F labs asked students to fit data with the type of function that corresponded to the model they were testing. This required students to stop and think critically about how their process related to the overall concepts we were studying. Groups often asked the instructor for help with this step, which generated a learning interaction with the instructor and provided both student and instructor with early-and-often feedback. In the remote labs the students are now asked a series of  guiding questions that direct them toward the correct choice of fit function. While these adaptations have allowed student to make significant progress between interactions with the instructor I have found that students do still require roughly 1-3 instructor interactions per lab to complete them successfully. As such, the labs current state these labs might not be amenable to a totally asynchronous learning environment.

Third Design Goal: Focus on Scientific Models and the Scientific Process

Physical science labs often focus on the experimental reverification of well-established physicals laws and theories, in which case specific results are expected and error analysis is focused on the difference between expected and observed results. The reverification type of lab can lead to frustration and even increase confusion about the physics concept being tested when the results differ significantly from what is expected. Furthermore, students may end up repeating experiments until an expected result is achieved, with little thought on why the results were different for each trial, in direct opposition to the real scientific process. A goal of this lab manual was to increase focus on scientific models. Students gain experience with well established physics concepts by applying them to create models used to make predictions. The need for assumptions in creating a model is explicitly addressed and students are asked to think critically about the affect of various assumptions on the validity of models in different situations. As in research science, experimental data are analyzed in order to produce results for comparison to prediction. Students are asked to think critically about differences between predictions and results in the context of model assumptions and measurement uncertainty (rather than aiming for a small difference).

Basic Structure

All of the labs follow the same basic structure, as outlined below:

Title

This lab is designed to align with AAOT science outcome #1: Gather, comprehend, and communicate scientific and technical information in order to explore ideas, models, and solutions and generate further questions.

Materials:

  • some labs require additional materials typically available to students, but most only require the items listed below
  • writing utensil
  • calculator
  • digital device with spreadsheet program
  • digital device with internet access

Objectives

  1. A list of 3-6 objectives for the lab. These are the tasks students will perform, such as “Apply a kinematic equation to predict the distance travelled by an object in free-fall for a given time interval.”

Methods

Experimental Methods

In some cases, guidance in developing a model for predicting the results of experiments for comparison to  results. In all cases, guidance in analyzing by calculating statistics, creating graphs, fitting functions, and estimating uncertainties

Analysis Methods

Conclusions

Students are asked to consider the results of their analysis and modeling and form conclusions with explanations of the reasoning behind their answers. The reasoning should rely on the results of  analysis and modeling work as well as additional knowledge from outside resources, such as the textbook.

Further Questions

Students are guided through the process of extending their thinking to make connections between their results and other physics concepts. For example, by reducing assumptions to build a more comprehensive model, considering additional sources of error, or examining their results in the context of more general physics theories.

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

General Physics Remote Lab Manual by Lawrence Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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