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Peer Review

JAVA Optics Course

by Artur Carnicer


Overall Numeric Rating:

5 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 4.5 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: Feb 02, 2010 by Physics
Overview: Java Optics is a collection of java applets that simulate a wide range of different optical phenomena. Topics include geometric optics, different interference phenomena, properties of optical instruments, and the eye. These resources are built with the Open Source Physics Source Code Library.
Type of Material: This is a collection of Java Simulations covering a single physics topic, Optics.
Recommended Uses: Virtual labs, interactive homework, lecture/demonstrations, and tutorials.
Technical Requirements: Java 1.5 or higher
Identify Major Learning Goals: Student exploration of optical systems to develop qualitative and quantitative understanding of their properties.
Target Student Population: Students in introductory and upper division physics classes and for introductory optometry education. Some of this material is also suitable for use by high school students.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Some previous introduction to optics is needed to take advantage of the full features of these simulations.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: These simulations cover a broad range of interesting and important topics in optics. Examples are interference, diffraction, and polarization. Each simulation is built so that students can explore all the physical parameters of importance to the system being modeled. A theoretical explanation attached to each of the simulations provides a summary of the physics modeled by the program.

Sophisticated and rich models are used in these simulations so that they go well beyond standard simple explanations found in most introductory course materials.

The Java Optics web site also includes videos of the output of real optical experiments for comparison to the simulated results.

Concerns: Instructors of introductory physics should be aware of the sophistication of these simulations and be prepared to help guide introductory students using this material.

Some of the simulations are focused on a very specific physical system, restricting their usage by general audience. This tends to be true for very the more advanced simulations such as Fabry-Perot Interferometer and the Fourier Optics simulation.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.5 stars
Strengths: These simulations can be used by students for interactive, hands-on explorations of optical systems, aided by the wide range of adjustable physical parameters. The theoretical materials attached to the modules make them suitable for tutorials as well.

The flexibility and realism of the simulations gives them the potential for a wide range of uses, including virtual labs. The videos of real optics experiments available on the web site support this use.

Concerns: It is not immediately clear how that these simulations can be used for instruction. There are no teaching examples included. Instructors will need to develop their own lesson plans.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: These materials are well scripted, the user interface is mostly intuitive, and the physics and operation of the simulations are very well documented. The documentation is very well written. Modification of physical parameters in the problem is immediate and simple. The interface is attractive.
Concerns: It is not immediately clear what a few of the parameters in the simulations mean.

The theory of the physics explored in the simulations and the instructions for running the applets are combined in many cases. This makes it a little more difficult to find information on running the simulations.

Other Issues and Comments: Java Optics was recommended as an excellent resource for optics in a joint review by the MERLOT/Physics board and a group of European physicists. This recommendation was presented at the 2009 Multimedia for Physics Teaching and Learning workshop at Udine Italy.