Monthly Archives: April 2021

New Interests and Activities (April 2021)

My main focus is on teaching large first-year physics lecture courses, course design and the related pedagogy and approaches, as well as assessment. My teaching philosophy is informed by constructivism and cognitive psychology, in particular by R. Mayer’s theory of multimedia learning (Mayer 2014). Mayer’s theory and the principles derived from it explain the rationale behind my extensive use of worksheets even in large lecture courses. More detailed explanations and a description of Mayer’s model can be found in my teaching philosophy.

Current activities:
My recent research and development activities have evolved around four areas:
(a) Hybrid education and online learning
(b) Open-educational resources
(c) Self-regulated learning
(d) Assessment

(a) (b) New course developments
Ideas from all four areas listed above have flown into my most recent course designs and developments for Mechanics and Electricity & Magnetism (both calculus). Following a model that I have previously developed with Stefan Reinsberg for on introductory physics course (see Hendricks, C., Reinsberg, S., and Rieger, G., 2017), I have now transitioned both of these courses to open-educational resources with the following features:
– use of an edX.edge website to host all course materials, designed as a standalone online course
– close integration of all these materials into a weekly structures that include
• chapters from an open textbook customized as weekly reading assignments with integrated reading quizzes.
• all in-class worksheet and clicker questions with randomized numbers for extra practice and accountability.
• textbook problem questions and/or previous exam questions customized as weekly homework sets.
• highly-relevant extra materials such as video solutions, PhET simulations, practice exams and study tips.

These OER projects started just before the COVID-19 pandemic and the transformed course materials were available for the first time in 2020W. The edX website and the integrated course materials in the form of a standalone online course are designed to support students in their self-regulated learning outside of class. Especially during the pandemic, this continues to be a huge asset. Teaching PHYS 117 with these materials in the fall term of 2020W have further convinced me of this approach: Between the synchronous and recorded lectures and tutorials, the Piazza discussion page and the edX.edge website, there was enough redundancy and flexibility to provide students with choices and at the same time with a clear structure.

(c) Self-regulated learning
This will be a key area for me over the next few years. My initial focus was on supporting students’ in their self-regulated learning outside of class (see paragraph above). A presentation by Dr. Deborah L. Butler (Faculty of Education) on how instructors can support students in their self-regulated learning, especially during in class activities, led me to expand my focus.
Together with Dr. Jess McIver and with input from Silvia Mazabel (Faculty of Education) (and initially physics grad student Sean Cooper and Gillian Gerhardt from CTLT) we developed SRL-related items that support students in class. These fall into three categories:
• Task-interpretation and initial planning. Here we provided extra steps and extra prompts on worksheets to help students with getting started with difficult problem questions. These steps and prompts encourage students to think about all the cognitive resources and course materials at their disposal and annotate their worksheets with relevant items (equations, drawings, vectors, etc.).
• Resources approach to multiple-choice questions. We adopted a learner-centered view in which all student ideas are seen as valuable resources. No idea was dismissed as ‘incorrect’ – students have reasons that are worth exploring. The classroom discussion accordingly shifted toward how these ideas and student resources can be constructively combined with the course resources. The instructors emphasized the value of all student contributions, modeled strategies for evaluating ideas, double-checking and sensemaking. We also encouraged students to adopt this inclusive stance in their small-group discussions in class and on the Piazza discussion forum. Overall, this did not require much additional work, mostly a shift in our attitude, away from seeing misconceptions and towards seeing ideas and resources.
• Forward facing feedback from ABC grades.This idea goes back to discussions I had with Gerwald Lichtenberg (University of Applied Sciences – HAW Hamburg) during his sabbatical leave at UBC: in addition to the overall test score, we posted average scores for specific question types. These scores are meant to give specific feedback on what to improve on for the next test or exam. This grading scheme is an implementation of the forward-facing feedback idea that was presented in one of the SRL workshops at UBC. The question “types” are related to:
A Definition and units
B Concepts and Understanding
C Calculations for familiar problems
D Calculations for unfamiliar problems

The average score of all questions belonging to each of these types are calculated and posted on canvas. Depending on this average score, a student might choose to follow our recommendations, which is specific to each question type. Research evaluating our efforts in the area of self-regulated learning is currently underway.

(d) Assessment
I continue to be interested in assessment at scale, i.e. ways to automatically grade students fairly. This means that the assessment should target different levels of student knowledge in addition to covering the content area. A key area for STEM students to improve in is their ability to solve problems.
During my current sabbatical leave I have a chance to work with members of Carl Wieman’s group at Stanford University and think about problem-solving and the assessment of problem-solving skills more broadly. Their efforts have recently produced a template (Burkholder et al., 2020) that assesses students’ problem-solving skills in a much more meaningful way than what is commonly done in undergraduate courses, including my own. One of the barriers to implementing their approach at scale is the amount of expertise needed to grade the templates and to adjust classroom instruction and include appropriate context-rich problem questions. While I have some experience with the design of context-rich problems, I have so far not been able to assess them in a meaningful way. I am now working with Eric Burkholder and with input from Carl Wieman and others to come up with ideas to implement their enhanced problem-solving approach in my large courses. One of the key challenges will be to find out whether or not the template can be broken up into smaller sub-parts and practice and assess these parts separately without sending the wrong message to students. What I am concerned about is the fact that problem-solving is not a linear process. For example, students should critically evaluate the final result and consider underlying assumptions again. Authentic problem-solving is an iterative approach that I would like my students to adopt.

Mayer (2014) “The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning”, 2nd edition, edited by R. Mayer, 2014.
Burkholder, E. W., Miles, J. K., Layden,T. J., Wang, K. D., Fritz , A. V., and Wieman, C. E. (2020). “Template for teaching and assessment of problem solving in introductory physics”, PHYSICAL REVIEW PHYSICS EDUCATION RESEARCH 16, 010123.