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Physics Labs for LIT

Claudio Oliveira Egalon

Physics Lecturer at CSUDH

Course Name & Description: Physics 130 and 120

Project Abstract:
Physics labs taught at Higher Education institutions are either taught at a very low level or at a very high level. In the first case, labs are very simple and not meaningful lasting less than 1.5 hour. In the second case the lab activity is too long or complicated to be finished in the allocated of 3 hours: this results in a frustration and a sense of being "burned out".

This state of affairs is unfortunate: the lab activities are very important because they test the student knowledge in the real world and motivate them to learn more about the abstract concepts taught in the lecture. However, this problem is not being properly addressed for the following reasons: the use of improper lab manuals and experimental procedures; lack of instructor training and preparation and lack of well-designed software that can simplify the experimental procedure and data analysis by the students thus eliminating the “back breaking” activities that frustrate and demotivate them.


To remedy this situation, we are designing a lab that is being taught at the high level. To ensure the activity will be accomplished in a successful and meaningful fashion, a series of steps are being accomplished in the following order:

1.    The production of well-designed lab manuals that instruct the students to perform only the activities required to accomplish a successful experiment in a meaningful fashion. This lab manual can be used as a stepping stone for scripts of future videos.

2.    A custom made spreadsheet that allows the students to input their raw data and automatically provide experimental results that can be compared with their theoretical counterpart.

3.    Correction software for each experiment: this can be used by the instructors to automatically correct the lab reports. This software saves a substantial amount of instructor time which can then be used in more productive tasks.

4.    Extensive illustrations detailing the step by step approach required to perform the experiments. These illustrations can be used as a stepping stone for storyboards of future videos.

5.    Custom made videos, four to seven minutes long, for the experiments performed in the class room. These videos can be used by the students as a training ground before performance of the actual experiment.

6.    Computer simulations and VR and AR software both derived from the videos.
7.    Preliminary automation of the experiments and

8.    Implementation of a fully tele-robotic interface derived from items 6 and 7.   This will allow students to perform the experiment at a distance using their computer and mobile devices.

Keywords/Tags:
Mechanics Lab; Uniform Motion; Accelerated Motion; Newton's 2nd Law; Circular Motion; Fluid Physics.

Instructional Delivery: 
In Class.

Pedagogical Approaches:
In-class demonstrations of experiments and videos.

About the LIT Redesign (Stage 1)

Background on the Redesign

Why Redesign your Course?

  • Course description: the abstract concepts in Physics are demonstrated in the lab setting.
  • The Learning Problem: Physics labs must be designed to apply in practice the abstract concepts taught in the lecture. However, overly complicated labs interferes with the ability of the students to make the connection between the lecture and the lab. 

High Demand/Low Success/Facilities Bottleneck Issues

  • Use of improper lab manuals and experimental procedures; lack of instructor training and preparation and lack of well-designed software that can eliminate many of the “back breaking” activities that frustrate and demotivate students.

    Course History / Background
  • The Physics Department of teaches a series of four different Physics labs: three labs taught at the Calculus based level; two labs at the trigonometric level and one lab at the conceptual basis level. On the average, a total of 1000 students take these labs per year at CSUDH's Physics Department.

(Upload syllabus from pre-designed course)

About the Students and Instructor(s) (Stage 2)

Student Characteristics

  • The student population varies according to the course. 
    • In the Physics 130, 132 and 134 series, the student population consists of future Engineers (Electrical Engineer), Scientists (Physics, Chemistry, Biochemistry and Computer Sciences), Mathematicians and, in rare instances, Business Administration. These students must take Calculus and are required to know this material for their Physics courses. These courses have a large percentage of male students: 70 to 90%, depending on the session.  
    • For the Physics 120 and 122 series, the majority of the students are pursuing degrees in Biology with a smaller percentage in Physical Therapy  and Clinical Sciences.  These students may have taken Calculus in the past but are not required to know it for the lab. These courses have a larger percentage of female students compared to the P130 series: 50%.
  • During the years teaching these labs, the instructor has been faced with a series of issues that were not supposed to plague this population of undergraduate students. Among them:
    • Students persistently do not document their measurement units in the lab report and provided spreadsheets. Either they do not know what the units are, or they fail to invest enough time and effort to complete their lab reports.  Some of these units are:
      • The main units, or the so-called base units, of the International System of Units, SI.          These are rather straightforward to report such as the meter, m, the seconds, s, the kilogram, kg, the Coulomb, C, etc.  However, in many lab reports, the students fail to report them.
      • The derived units, which are a combination of the base units such as the unit of velocity, m/s, acceleration, m/s2, force, the Newton, N, current Ampere, A, electric field, V/m, magnetic field, the Tesla, T,  etc and
      • Arbitrary combination of any of the base units presented to the students, during different lab activities, as a means to test their dimensional analysis knowledge.  These units can be determined by performing dimensional analysis of the equation in question.  In this case, it is very common for the student to either leave the unit unreported or to report it incorrectly.  This suggest that the students still do not master basic knowledge of Algebra and Dimensional Analysis.
    • A considerable percentage of this student population struggle to properly convert units. For instance, a length that is measured in centimeters is not properly converted to the its main unit counterpart, the meter. As a result, if a given measurement is 1 cm long, students usually report it as being 1 meter or 1 mm instead.
    • Students come to the Physics lab without knowing how to use the ruler: the most basic instrument of measurement. Sometimes they read the inches scale and report it as being centimeters. I have also witnessed students reading the centimeter scale and reporting the result in millimeters instead. In other words, if a given measurement is 10 inches, students report it as being 10 cm. Similarly, a measurement of 10 cm is frequently reported as being 10 mm.
    • Another important gap in the education of this group of students refers to the use of the decimal based multipliers used as prefixes combined with the names of different units. For instance: the prefix centi is equal to 1/100 or 0.01; the prefix mili means 1/1,000 or 0.001; the prefix kilo is 1,000 and so on. So, 1 cm, or one centimeter, is 1m/100 or 0.01 m whereas 1 mm, or one millimeter, is 1m/1,000 or 0.001 m etc.  Unfortunately, many of the students I met in the classroom confessed never seeing this notation when they were supposed to have seen it in the Elementary school.
    • Simply stating none of the above shortcomings were supposed to be happening at this point in their education.

Advice I Give my Students to be Successful

  • I provide several pieces of advice and instruction to my students.  Many of them are spelled out in my syllabus: 
    • Not to plagiarize the experimental data collected in the classroom and to generate their own, original data.  In one occasion, I found that one group of students performed the experiment of the next class meeting. When I discovered that, I advised them to keep this data for the lab report of the experiment of the following week and perform the day’s experiment next week.  Instead, in the following week, and to my dismay, I discovered that this group of students had “loaned” the data from another group of students in the classroom. I was very clear to them that what they were doing was plagiarism and there was no need to do that since they could had collected this data in the present class.  I also had a conversation with the other group and cautioned them not to share their data with the other group otherwise they could give the impression they were conspiring with the other group in their plagiarism.
    • I instruct them to always report the units of their measurement in the base SI units:
      • Every measurement in centimeters and millimeters must be converted to meters.
      • Every measurement in grams must be converted into kilograms.
      • Every measurement in minutes and hours must be converted into seconds etc.
    • In order to determine a given unit, I advise them use their knowledge of Algebra and dimensional analysis.
    • I instruct them in using Excel spreadsheets. I also encourage them to perform their own data manipulation using the spreadsheet instead their calculators. Excel spreadsheets keep a detailed record of how the student performed his/her numerical operation and are a very useful tool in locating any mistakes they make in this manipulation.
    • Despite the wide availability of calculators and spreadsheets, many numerical manipulations can be readily done using paper and pen. For this reason, I tell my students that simple divisions and multiplications, that use decimal based multipliers, can be easily, and more quickly, performed manually with pen and paper.  It seems hard to believe but, I have witnessed undergraduate students performing these same simple operations using their calculators instead. 
    • I instruct them fill up their spreadsheets and refer to the percentage difference to determine if they got good experimental data and results.
    • I instruct them to ensure that they are reporting their measurements in the proper way which means whether they made the proper measurement conversion. Many poor experimental results are obtained because:
      • The student did not convert their measurements properly.
      • The student read their measurement incorrectly.
      • The student read their measurement correctly but reported it incorrectly. For this reason, I usually refer them to the raw data when I see a suspicious result.

      • It is very common for students to make a measurement in mA, milli Amperes, and report them in Amperes. In these circumstances I point them out to the fact that any current above 1 A can kill a human being and, if they are still alive, it must be because there is something wrong…
      • I advise them to read the laboratory procedure and background theory before the lab meeting.

Impact of Student Learning Outcomes/Objectives (SLOs) on Course Redesign


    • The following are the learning outcomes of this course. At the end of each laboratory course the student will:
      • be able to correctly read and report his/her measurements consistently.
      • be able to correctly convert his/her measurements consistently.
      • be able to report the proper units of different measurements and results.
      • become proficient with the use of main laboratory instrumentation such as rulers, Vernier calipers, micrometers, time pieces, scales, thermometers, levels, inclinometers, power supplies, multimeters, light sources, resistors, capacitors, diodes, gratings and others.
      • be able to identify an experimental procedure capable of verifying Newton’s 2nd Law of motion.
      • be able to troubleshoot an experiment to determine where a given mistaken was made through the experimental procedure.
      • be able to learn how to use Microsoft Excel to document their data and plot graphs.
      • be able to use statistical concepts to determine whether their experimental result is in accordance with the theory. 
    • These learning outcomes are assessed by the lab report grades and by close supervision of the instructor during the student’s experimental procedure.

Alignment of SLOs With LIT Redesign

  • The course redesign aligns with the SLOs for the following reasons:
    • Students are provided with a coherent and complete lab manual that outlines the step by step procedure of each experiment.  Many of these steps are provided by the instructor both in writing and in illustrative fashion using scripts and storyboards custom designed for each experiment.
    • The instructor provides mathematical tools for the student to correctly obtain the derived units of a given result and/or measurement.
    • The instructor proposes meaningful and reasonable experiments that can be accomplished in the allotted time. These experiments have varying degrees of success that can be quantified in terms of their percentage differences between the experimental results and the theoretical predictions, with:
      • Most experiments having results within 10% of the theoretical prediction. 
      • A certain parcel of experiments having results within 5% and, in certain cases, within 1% of the theoretical prediction.
      • In rare instances, the experimental results are within 30% and
      • In instances even more rare the experimental results can be judged only by its order of magnitude in agreement with its theoretical predication.
    • The instructor provides the students with well-designed spreadsheets that simplifies the data logging and analysis of the experiment.
    • The instructor currently provides rapid feed back of the laboratory report in the form of a color coded document that points out the mistakes the student made in his/her report.

Assessments Used to Measure Students' Achievement of SLOs

  • Currently, the instructor assesses the students’ achievement of SLOs by: 
    • Observing the group conduction during the experimental procedure.
    • Inquiring the students in the classroom on how they obtained a given experimental measurement and result.
    • Pointing out, in real time, any major mistakes a given group made in the collection and recording of the experimental data.
    • Using custom made software that automatically corrects the lab report and highlights in a color code any mistakes they made.
    • All of the above is already being done however, in the future, we plan to use our grant money to purchase clickers and make them available to our student population. This additional tool will provide an important measure the student’s knowledge progression during the semester and can be used to further measure the students’ achievement during the course.

Accessibility, Affordability, and Diversity Accessibility

  • All the activities undertaken in the classroom serve students with varied abilities.  Proof of this statement is the grade distribution obtained at the end of every semester.  If a given session is made up of groups of students with an even set of abilities, we should expect an homogeneous grade distribution at the end of the semester which translate into a small standard deviation, closer to zero, and small range distribution of the grades. Instead, we get standard deviations of the grade that varies between 4.6% for session P 122-06, Spring 2019, and 10% for session P 130-03, Spring 2019. Similarly, grade range distribution varies from 20% points for P 122-06, Spring 2019, to 39.8% for P130-03, Spring 2019.  Data also indicate that there is a larger grade homogeneity among the Physics 120 and 122 because they have a lower standard deviation. 

Affordability

  • Course materials provided are either free or low cost.  The spreadsheets I provide to my students are free of charge and the lab manual has a low purchase cost of $10.   

Diversity

  • The pedagogical strategies in support of students with diverse backgrounds can be judged by analyzing the grade distribution of students of different backgrounds. This can only be determined by accessing databanks that classify these students and correlate it with the grades obtained in my courses. At this moment I do not have access to these statistics. 

About the Instructor

  • Claudio Oliveira Egalon.  I have a Ph.D. degree in Physics and a second Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. In the past I worked at NASA Langley Research Center, at the US Air Force Laboratory, Phillips Lab, in Albuquerque, NM, at the private industry and different colleges and universities. My expertise is in optical fiber sensors and I have the title of more than 40 patents both in the US and overseas.        The technology I develop is a high spatial resolution optical fiber sensor that can be used for several types of measurements. 

Curriculum Vitae



LIT Redesign Planning (Stage 3)

Implementing the Redesigned Course What aspects of your course have you redesigned?

  • In the past I used the lab manuals provided by the Department. Although the experiments described in the Department’s lab manual work very well, unfortunately, they had, and still have, several shortcomings:
    • Many experiments in the manual were not properly planned timewise: instead they have activities that lasts far longer than the allotted 2:50 time.  For instance, there are experiments described in the manual that can last 6, 9 and 12 hours: in other words, they can be easily broken down in more than one lab meeting.
    • These lab manuals lack appropriate tables for the students to organize their data.
    • The manuals lack detailed instructions and extensive illustrations to walk the students in the step by step experimental procedure: the educational equivalent of a detailed script and storyboard in the film industry.
    • Tables that will allow the student to determine the Confidence Level of a given Regression Equation with respect to the experimental datapoints.
  • In addition to the above shortcomings of the lab manual manuals, there is also a lack of custom-made complementary materials such as:
    • Spreadsheets that mirror the provided tables.
    • Educative videos that walk the student through the step by step procedure.
    • Correction software to ease the burden of the instructor in the correction of the lab reports and grade assignment.
    • Meaningful training of incoming faculty that still need to learn the ropes.
  • After identifying these shortcomings in my first semester, I managed to implement the following:
    • Meaningful experiments to fit the allotted time.
    • Lab manuals, in e-book format, having appropriate tables for the students to organize their data.
    • Lab manual with better procedures and step by step instructions: these procedures are now being expanded in the format of scripts that will be used in instructional videos.
    • Extensive illustrations showing each experimental step: these illustrations are currently being projected in the classroom but, very soon, will be incorporated into our e-book lab manual.
    • Well designed spreadsheets that allow the students to enter their data and have their result automatically displayed.
    • A detailed table documenting the Critical Values of the Pearson Correlation Coefficient which allows the students to estimate the Confidence Level: a very important statistical parameter. 
    • Custom made videos using 3-D software, four to seven minutes long, of the experiments performed in class.

Describe the class size(s) What technology is being used?

  • Our labs/class, can have up to 24 students. 
  • Part of the technology we incorporated into the classroom are the following:
    • Lab manuals in e-book format that can be downloaded to the student’s smartphone, tablet and computer.
    • Excel spreadsheets the students use to document their data while performing their lab experiments.  After the students fill these spreadsheets, they submit them to the instructor for grading as part of their lab report.
    • The instructor then uses a confidential software to automatically correct the spreadsheets submitted by the students.
    • This confidential program then generates an output file, in html format, showing the student’s mistakes and grade. The student’s mistakes are indicated in a color code format.
    • Custom made 3-D videos that are displayed in the classroom.
  • In the future, we are also working to implement in the future the following technologies:
    • An app that can be downloaded to a smartphone to help the student perform their experiments with a minimum of instructor input. This app will have step by step instructions for the students to perform their experiment.
    • A cloud-based platform where the students submit their spreadsheets for instant correction and grade feedback: this is the WebAssign counterpart of lab experiments.
    • A platform that will make available the 3-D videos we are creating for student download.
    • Automated experiments: right now, we are working with an automated liquid level sensor that is being incorporated to a Fluid Physics experiment.  Eventually, this device will be used as part of a tele robotic experiment that can be performed by students through the Internet. 

What professional development activities have you participated during your course redesign?

  • I have been doing the following:
    • Participating on the online meetings of the LIT program.
    • Meeting with individuals of CSUDH’s Faculty Development Center to identify worthy programs.
    • Meeting with faculty of the Chemistry Department to develop new technologies that can be incorporated into the curriculum. 
    • I made a presentation during one of the meetings of the Southern California Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers, SCAAPT, in which I described the presented the Excel spreadsheets I have been using in the classroom.
  • As part of separate grants, I am also:
    • Working with Los Angeles Harbor College and CSUDH students in the performance of experiments: the results of some of these experiments will be presented at the Honor’s conference at UCI.
    • Working with an Electronics Engineer to automate different devices that will be used in the lab.  The liquid level sensor is one of these devices which works in conjunction with a wireless transmitter and receiver.
    • Working with a Computer Engineer to create the software that will collect the data and display in a website that can be accessed to students and instructors alike.
    • Working with a software company that offers off-the-shelf solutions for many of the problems I am encountering in my course redesign.
    • As a result of this interaction I learned about the concepts related to the cloud, how to automate devices and control them at distance.


Which Additional Resources Were Needed for the Redesign?

  • As described above, during my course redesign I was funded by separate grants that were used in a synergistic fashion with the grant of the LIT program.  This grant helped me purchase software and develop new equipment, technologies and software for the lab, including the 3-D videos. As a result, I worked with a variety of professionals such as Electronics and Computer Engineers, professional illustrators, students and the faculty of CSUDH’s Chemistry Department.
  • (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pRtuTq2eYyzdPcjyQbCdsYRr0OvF64_L/view?usp=sharing)

LIT Results and Findings (Stage 4)

LIT Redesign Impact on Teaching and Learning

  • How has the course redesign strategies affected your instruction and your students’ learning? Did your redesign strategy solve the issues that motivated you to redesign the course?
  • Describe how your students mastered the student learning outcomes. Were the students more successful in the redesigned course than in previous courses? Explain.
  • Did you experience unexpected results after teaching the redesigned course? If so, what were they?
  • Consider attaching a more in-depth report describing the impact of your activities and experiences during the course redesign as a document/link/image. If possible consider including samples of students' work that reflect the impact of the redesign.

Assessment Findings

  • Use table and chart template to report course data (required).
  • Upload table and chart from your template (required) and reflect on your findings with a short description. You must include a course grades comparison of pre/post student achievements.
  • Share how your students achieved the learning outcomes? Describe how they mastered the learning outcomes compared to previous courses?

Student Feedback

  • What did your students say or how did they respond to the redesigned activities? Consider including your students' comments about their learning. Include survey results if you are able to capture them. Include student video feedback (optional).

Challenges my Students Encountered

  • What challenges did the students encounter in the redesigned activities? E.g., technical challenges, organization of course, and redesigned activities.

Lessons Learned & Redesign Tips

Teaching Tips

  • What advice do you have for others who might want to use this redesigned course?

Course Redesign Obstacles

  • What challenges did you confront and how did you overcome them?

Strategies I Used to Increase Engagement

  • What pedagogical strategies did you use in your new redesigned course to engage students?

Sustainability

  • How do plan to sustain the LIT redesign beyond the funding period?

Instructor Reflection

  • Reflect on your participation in redesigning a course, development of an ePortfolio, participation in CSU Course Redesign Professional Learning Community Share any plans to disseminate/publish the findings of your course redesign activity.