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Physics 1A Homepage
Physics 1A Homepage in WebCT
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Physics 1A: Foundations of Physics


Physics 1A: Foundations of Physics is our flagship course in introductory Physics and comprises a blend of traditional face-to-face learning and e-Learning resources which has been developed and refined since we first started integrating e-Learning into the course in 1998.

The course presents some interesting and distinctive challenges that have helped shape the course delivery:

  • The class is large (growing from 150 to around 250 in recent years).
  • The student mix is very inhomogeneous: we have to cater for the needs of aspiring physicists (around 50% of the class) and those on other (mainly science) programmes.
  • The subject matter — the classical physics of space, time and motion — is fraught with misconceptions which can only be dislodged by active student engagement.
Physics 1A Content Page
A Content Page in action. The light yellow buttons are used to expand/hide extra material, such as the Commentary shown above.

Learning Content Innovation

The Physics 1A course materials currently comprise over 1400 granular “Knowledge Objects” such as interactive Content Pages (expositions of a concept, derivations, examples etc.), descriptions of Learning Outcomes, Tutorial Questions, Self Test Questions, interactive Applets, photographs, diagrams etc. These learning objects are authored and managed by our Aardvark Course Content Management System, which also handles the job of organising, presenting, aggregating and assembling our materials in a number of formats in a coherent fashion.

One important Learning Resource produced by Aardvark is a comprehensive bundle of web resources that allows students to exploit the power of web-based learning to its full, allowing a degree of personalisation, flexibility and non-linear routes through the material. This is delivered within the University's chosen Virtual Learning Environment WebCT, mixing our high quality content with the WebCT toolset, forming the main organisational hub of the course,

This pair of screenshots demonstrates coherence between the online and real versions of the student handbook in Physics 1A. Note how the expandable regions on the web are also marked in right margin of the PDF view to help the student marry the two views up.

To complement the online materials, Aardvark also outputs a printed bundle of material called the Course Handbook, which forms a skeleton outline and roadmap of the course material. One of the core guiding principles of Physics 1A is to ensure that the real and virtual course materials are coherent, which is made easy by Aardvark's "Single Source, Multiple Output" design.

Aardvark also creates PowerPoint-like web resources that lecturers use to assist with the course delivery, which carries on the principle of coherence between all of the blended learning resources used in Physics 1A.

Physics 1A Content Page
A "Time To Think". Students vote on the answer during lectures.

Teaching Innovation

The course materials form an A-Z of the course syllabus, providing us the possibility of not having to use whole-class lectures to cover this material sequentially in traditional fashion. In the 2005/2006 session of the course, we introduced an Electronic Voting System, changing the lecture dynamic from a one-way vertical transmission of information from lecturer to class, to a more horizontal, two-way learning conversation facilitated using special “Time To Think” learning Objects. Some seventy of these were utilised during lectures, consuming a substantial fraction of the time that would have previously been devoted to an exposition of the A-Z.

Physics 1A Content Page
Menu for a workshop session

We have also recently replaced the traditional tutorial and laboratory session with weekly workshop sessions. These 3 hour sessions comprise a number of structured activities, delivered and integrating into the online course materials. Students work in small groups, armed with a PC and a flip-chart, developing team building and communication skills. The menu of activities includes experiments, reflective learning, problem-based learning and challenges and has so far proved extremely successful.


Prof Simon Bates, School of Physics and Astronomy (Course Organiser)

Video Demos

The following links will open a new window. These video demos require Adobe's Flash Player.

  • Physics 1A Design Show this demo in a new window: Simon Bates, course organiser of "Physics 1A: Foundations" sets the context in which recent course development has taken place and outlines some of the design principles the course team have used. [Length: 8m 13s, Size: ~10MB]
  • Physics 1A Walkthrough Show this demo in a new window: Simon Bates presents a video walkthrough of the course material as it is presented to students via the University's virtual learning environment, illustrating the different types of learning material that the course uses. [Length: 4m, Size: ~9.6MB]
  • Personalised routes through material Show this demo in a new window: Simon Bates, course organiser for Physics 1A, discusses the design features that facilitate students being able to take non-linear and personalised routes through the online course material. Three specific examples are discussed: (i) the granularity of the resources; (ii) inlines and popups; and (iii) imported resources, wrapped in a local commentary. [Length: 15m 10s, Size: 29.3MB]
  • Visualisation of tracking results to reveal routes through material Show this demo in a new window: Jon Hill, an Applications consultant at Edinburgh Parallel Computing Center describes the spatial and temporal visualisations that he has constructed from the raw tracking data obtained during the 2005/06 run of the course. [Length: 5m 41s, Size: ~2.1MB]