Frequently Asked Questions
prepared by Selman Hershfield
- Why are we doing this?
- What exactly are we doing?
- Why use the Web?
- Are there any disadvantages to using the Web?
- Will this replace teachers?
- Will this replace textbooks?
- What about distance education?
- Why isn't there more text with the pictures?
- When will this be finished?
- Who is paying for this?
- Who is doing the work?
- How much does it cost to use this material?
- What will the future of Physics education be like?
- Are we discriminating against those students without computer access?
- Will Physics be made trivial?
- 1. Why are we doing this?
- To improve teaching in our introductory Physics course without calculus.
Multimedia material like this can aid in teaching by providing quality graphics
to visualize Physics concepts and experiments, by providing a record of
what was covered in class, and most importantly by allowing students to use the
computer as a tutor to aid in learning laws, concepts, and problem solving.
- 2. What exactly are we doing?
- Our precise goals will change as a function of time as we learn about using
this technology and as new technologies become available. For the 1995-96
school year our goal is to create a graphics image library and put these images
into lectures. In the Fall of 1996 this material will be used in a multimedia
classroom for a substantial fraction of the lecture material.
It is important to note that we are not getting rid of blackboards
completely nor are we getting rid of actual experiments done in class. Blackboards
or similar writing media are unsurpassed in their flexibility in
answering questions in class. Nothing can be as real as an actual experiment.
This multimedia material should be regarded as another source of information,
just as textbooks act as a supplement to lectures and discussion sections.
- 3. Why use the Web?
- Everything we are doing here can be done with other technologies, e.g.,
CD-ROMS, film clips, educational software on disks, class notes, etc.
Where the Web wins hands down is in terms of distribution. I or anyone else
in the world can put something on the Web and have it be visible to
everyone - not just my home institution.
To do this by any other method would require a large bureaucracy to
produce the material and then distribute it.
Not only can the material be accessed at any place, but it can also be
accessed at any time. Thus, if some students are studying at 10PM at night
and having a discussion about a particular demonstration in class from
a week ago, they can just dial in and review the experiment.
Suppose a student has done all of a particular type of problem in the
textbook and wants another problem to practice. With interactive
problems there are not just one or two questions of a particular type,
but literally hundreds or thousands of them.
- 4. Are there any disadvantages to using the Web?
- The biggest disadvantage at this point is that the standards and software
are still evolving. Thus, one may have to write some of one's own software,
as we have done, or one may use one technology, only to have it soon become
out of date. With all these changes, one may ask if one should wait until
everything is fully developed. I am not sure if things will ever be completely
developed. There will always be changes; however, some standards are
established and will likely be here for many years to come. For example,
HTML for text, gifs and jpegs for graphics, are safe for development.
- 5. Will this replace teachers?
- No. This material should be regarded as tools for teaching. Some of the
things which teachers now do will be replaced by the computer; however,
I see this as a benefit to both the teacher and the students. For example,
we now have an interactive example which teaches one of the right hand rules in
magnetism. This problem generates about 350 different configurations of
magnetic field, electrical current, and force. Although I will explain
the rule in class, I now only have to go through a few examples. Students
who want more examples can use the computer. They can do all 300 or so
examples 10 times if they want. As teacher, I am now freed to discuss more
- 6. Will this replace textbooks?
- One of the things which I am definitely not trying to do is to put a
textbook on the Web. This material should be different from a textbook
or even a textbook on a CD-ROM. There are many textbooks covering introductory
Physics at this level, and I see no reason to introduce yet another one.
On the other hand, the material here is an alternative source of information
to a textbook. For the next few years at least, students at UF
will be buying a textbook. As more information comes on line, however,
the textbook may not be required, but rather be optional.
- 7. What about distance education?
- Eventually I would like to offer this course at a distance, meaning
that the students are not physically at the University of Florida
or at least do not come to lecture.
(Some students are experimenting with this already.)
I see this as happening naturally as more material is put on the Web
and as the technology advances. It is just a matter of time.
There are some Universities such as
Stanford that have been teaching computer based science courses
to high school students for years.
- 8. Why isn't there more text with the pictures?
- Originally, when I started putting material on the Web, I used much
more text. I was thinking that the Web material would be like an
informal textbook tutorial.
However, for multimedia lectures you do not want your view screens
to be covered with text. At some point in the next year or two we
will add either audio clips or text using frames.
- 9. When will this be finished?
- Some elements of this project such as the creation of the image library
will be finished by the end of the Spring 1996 semester.
Other elements, such as the creation of a large set of
interactive problems will take longer. I have no estimate at present of
when audio and video will be added to this material.
This project is under no specific time deadlines other than the first version
of the multimedia lectures be finished for the Fall 1996 semester.
Over the next few years there will be many projects like this throughout the
United States and the world. Our aim is to do a good job, not necessarily to
be the first. To do a good job, the project must evolve over a long period
of time (years) as our experience grows and as the technology matures.
- 10. Who is paying for this?
- The money for this project comes from a number of different sources.
Obviously, the University of Florida is paying my salary. The UF multimedia
program has also paid for a graduate student to help develop the initial
Web pages. The Research Corporation through a Cottrell Scholars Award
is supplying some computer equipment and paying two undergraduates to help
draw the pictures. Some of the equipment originally purchased for research
as part of my National Science Foundation grant is serving double duty in
this educational project. A local company, InterSoft Solutions has given
us a grant to use their extensive C++ class library for doing CGI scripts.
Finally, we are thankful that Netscape Communications Corp. has made their
viewer and Web servers available free to educational institutions.
- 11. Who is doing the work?
- Besided myself, there are several students who have
worked on the project.
This includes a graduate student for some of the more advanced topics,
as well as several undergraduates for graphics and for programming in
like this. Often undergraduates know more about recent developments on the
Web than any professor. Because of the valuable job experience, they are happy
to work on Web projects. Thus, using students both allows the students
to learn new skills and at the same time allows the professor to develop new teaching
material. I am surprised that students are not employed more in this context.
- 12. How much does it cost to use this material?
- Nothing. Anyone can use this material on the internet.
However, just because it is openly available on the internet
does not mean that it is not copyrighted. All the material here
is copyrighted by the University of Florida, and hence all the
standard copyright law apply.
Eventually, I hope to have provisions for downloading the
entire site for use at educational institutions.
- 13. What will the future of Physics education be like?
- I wish I knew! There are some things which I think we can be fairly
certain about. There is going to be lots of educational material on the Web --
there already is.
There is not going to be one best way to teach
Physics or even a best Web site. Rather, there will be many different
approaches, and people - both teachers and students - can choose what they
like best. Finally, by the turn of the century, if not sooner, almost all
incoming students at UF will own personal computers and using this kind
of material will be the norm rather than the exception.
- 14. Are we discriminating against those students without computer access?
- Yes. Although all the material on the Web is available by other means,
such as lectures and the textbook, students with computer access will have
some advantage in learning.
Our job at the University is to try to minimize this difference.
Next year as part of this course we will give a hands-on introduction
to the internet, the World Wide Web, and this course material.
This should help those students who are not familiar with the Web.
The University has some public access computer labs for those without
computers at home; however,
in 1997 or 1998 when the new Physics building is complete, we will have
at least one room devoted to
using computer based learning tools.
- 15. Will Physics be made trivial?
- Absolutely not. Any educational material, whether it be on the Web,
in a book, on TV, or on a CD-ROM is just a tool for learning. The learning is
something that the individual students do themselves by thinking, by doing
problems, and by asking questions. The computer does not offer a shortcut for