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PER Seminar

Active Engagement Instruction: Reforming introductory physics at MIT

Speaker: Prof. John Belcher (MIT)
Date: Wednesday 17 February 2021
Time: 16:00
Venue: Zoom

In the late 1990s, the Physics Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had a problem. The Department was responsible for teaching the two required physics courses that are part of MIT’s core requirements—mechanics and electromagnetism—and the failure rate in both was dismal, class attendance was low, and there were no laboratories associated with the two courses. To address these issues and following the lead of other physics departments in the US, notably the Scale-Up Program at North Carolina State University, the Department went to an active engagement model know as TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning). TEAL is a teaching format that merges lectures, simulations, and hands-on desktop experiments to create a rich collaborative learning experience, with instruction taking place in two classrooms designed to maximize student-faculty and student-student interaction. Introduced in 2001, this format with various modifications has been used to teach freshmen physics at MIT for the last twenty years. I discuss the history of that effort, which I led in its first six years, and the way it has changed over time up to the present day.

John Belcher is the Class of 1922 Professor of Physics at MIT and an Oersted Medalist of the AAPT. In addition to his efforts in education, he has been associated with the Voyager Mission to the Outer Planets since launch in 1977, and is currently involved in the analysis of plasma data from the Local Interstellar Medium, following Voyager 2’s penetration into that region in 2018.