Thursday, May 21, 2020

Transition to Online Teaching

The June 2020 issue of Physics Today has an article on various physics instructors' effort in dealing with the migration to online teaching in physics courses. I notice a few similar issues I had to deal with, such as this:

During in-person lectures, says Greco, the instructor would pose a question every 10 minutes or so. The students would discuss the question with their neighbors for a few minutes and then submit their answers. “If most of them get the right answer, I move on,” says Greco. “If not, I adjust the live lecture.” That doesn’t work as well online: Student discussion is harder to facilitate and web-based interactions are much slower. In person, he adds, “you can tell if someone is paying attention, but that’s hard to do virtually.”

I use "clickers" in class to do a quick snapshot if the students understood the concept that was presented. And certainly, student-to-student discussion is a part of it especially if the first round of in-class question didn't produce a correct response. This can't be done during a Zoom session even though it has a Poll feature. Student discussion was almost non-existent, and we had to revert back to almost passive learning, which killed me since I'm a strong advocate for active learning.

I did resorted to giving them at-home projects as part of the material where they used simulations and virtual experiments to investigate something that was relevant to the topic of that week. But it isn't the same, obviously.

The other similar thing that I read was this:

Other instructors chose to teach asynchronously, sometimes in a flipped mode, with students watching lectures before attending virtual discussions. Some instructors, including Dubson, embed questions in their video lectures such that students can’t continue until they commit to an answer. “This allows us to require that they think,” he says.

Luckily, all my classes have these "pre-lecture" videos or documents that the students had to view or read, and then answer a few questions. These were meant to introduce to them the concepts related to the topic of that week before the come to class. So I was already doing the "flipped" mode. When we went totally remote, I expanded the pre-lecture videos and material so that the students had a bit more to view because now it became a major source of the material.

It's nice to read that many other instructors were doing the same thing, and that we could all learn from one another on how to do this better next time.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Goodbye Spring Semester 2020

It's been close to a week since I submitted the final grades for my students. I'm still giving my sigh of relief that the crazy semester is finally over, and I'm sure the students felt the same way too.

For someone who has had a bit of training on how to run blended or hybrid classes, it was still a huge challenge to modify an existing on-site classes to run 100% online. And as someone who is a strong advocate of active learning, it is an even bigger disappointment that all the meticulous planning and in-class activities along this line of learning had to be thrown out of the window. But as they say, life happens while you're making plans!

After this whole debacle, I'm taking the entire summer off. I was planning on going to Hawaii at the end of May and fulfill one of the items on my bucket list, which is to view a sunrise or sunset on Mauna Kea. But of course, all of that had to be cancelled.

Still, I won't be just sitting on my rear end doing nothing throughout the summer. This whole pandemic thing has force me to get more official training on the best-practice way to run online classes and lessons, especially for a course that requires labs, etc. I've signed up for several accredited training courses, with the hope of improving my online lessons and presentations. I'm very much interested in the best ways to minimize online cheating during exams, etc., because I consider that to be a major issue and why I am skeptical of the skill and understanding of students taking online classes. Other faculty members who had taken such courses mentioned that it also helped with their in-person classes, so it definitely sounds like a positive thing to do. We shall see.

I've also realized that I've been consuming more than my usual amount of wine during this stay-at-home order. Not sure if that's good or bad.... :)😁


Friday, April 17, 2020

Simple Electric Motor Experiment

This was the last lab that my students managed to do before all in-person classes were cancelled due to the coronavirus. They had to build a simple electric motor, making use of the concept of magnetic field created by a loop of wire, the concept of magnetic moment, and magnetic torque.

The final "proof" that they had successfully built the motor is to show that it will spin continuously, which looks like this:

It's a common experiment done in many General Physics labs, but it is still a cool exercise. The students certainly had fun doing it and they felt a sense of accomplishment when they see the spinning coil in motion.

I was just glad we managed to do it just before the shutdown.


Thursday, April 16, 2020

First Hint of CP Violation in the Neutrino Sector

The latest report on T2K results has been published[1], and it looks good for the upcoming long neutrino baseline experiment at DUNE and T2HK. The result may suggest that these two upcoming experiments may finally nail down CP violation in neutrinos, which will be a substantial advancement in our understanding on why there are more mater than antimatter in our universe.

The discovery of substantial leptonic CP violation would be groundbreaking. Its observation, together with evidence that a quantity known as lepton number has been violated (that is, not conserved), would provide strong circumstantial evidence for leptogenesis as the origin of the matter–antimatter imbalance.


[1] T2K collaboration, Nature v.580p.339 (2020).

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Making Physics Funny

Although Tom Gauld's cartoons do not actually focus on physics, he has included topics related to physics before. This NY Times article gives a brief interview and background on him, someone you would know if you read New Scientist frequently.

I decided to mention it here because the article included one of his cartoons that made me chuckle. I decided to include it here and make sure everyone is aware that this is credited to him. If he or his publisher object to this, I'll remove it.

It's pretty funny, though, because if you are involved in any kind of science forum or discussion online, this happens more often than you think.

And considering that our current President of the US thinks he's an expert in many different fields as well, I feel that I'm living in that Science Hell right now.


Monday, March 30, 2020

More Geeky T-Shirts

Before all this mess with the coronavirus came up, I got the chance to wear these two t-shirts to my class when I was teaching resistance/circuits, and when I was teaching magnetic fields. These two are in addition to the other geeky t-shirt that I mentioned last time.

I'm thinking of buying more for a couple of different topics that I will be covering, but who knows when I'll get to wear them again in a class setting. I suppose I can wear them when I run my Zoom class session, but who gets to see the full effect of it when all you want to show is your face.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Busy With Online Course Conversion

I'm sure everyone involved in course instruction is facing the same issue. The past 2 weeks have been rather hectic as I rush to reform the course and adapt it to a purely online course. It is certainly more daunting and more of challenge for science courses that have lab components.

I find myself not struggling as much as a few of the other faculty members that had never taught anything remotely or online. I've had some experience in teaching blended or hybrid courses, so I have had experience with conducting either asynchronous courses, synchronous courses via video-conferencing app such as WebEx. So for me, the work involves adapting my material that was meant for an on-site course into something more suitable for an online course.

As for the labs, I already have a collection of "virtual labs" that I had written previously that make use of the various online experiments such as the ones fro PhET, etc. So those actually require only minor rewrites and tweaks and they are good to go.

My main struggle and something that I still find a bit dubious, are the exams. I still do not believe that students will not cheat if they can when doing online tests and exams, no matter how much one tries. This is my main issue with any online courses, the ability to determine if the work was truly done by the student him/herself. I have heard many anecdotal cases where for the same course and same exam, students who took the online version scored significantly higher exam scores than the students who took the exam in class. So make your own conclusion there. I've written my exams in such a way that the questions are somewhat "unique" and can't be easily "googled". But there is no way to prevent the student from having someone else helping or even outright doing the exam for him/her. At the end, there is only so much one can do given the circumstances.

As of now, all I'm trying to do is survive the remainder of the semester with the new workload, and to stay healthy. I wish the same for all of you as well.


Saturday, March 07, 2020

RIP Freeman Dyson

Freeman Dyson has died at the age of 96.

Many anti-academia often used him as an example of being able to do physics without a PhD. But really, how many people are as gifted and as brilliant as he is? He was part of academia, because that was where he worked, and using him as an example is like planning your life as if you'll win a lottery.

Dyson's legacy will go on long after he is gone.


Wednesday, March 04, 2020

2020 APS March Meeting Cancelled

By now, I'm sure those of you involved would have heard the news of the cancellation of the APS March meeting this year due to the coronavirus issue. For those of you who don't know, the APS March meeting is the LARGEST yearly physics conference in the world, attracting more than 10,000 physicists from around the world over a week of intellectual discussion and presentations.

This cancellation is quite unprecedented, because I do not remember the last time this has happened, if it has ever happened. So this is quite a big deal. I'm sure there's a lot of people impacted by this, especially in terms of travel and accommodation cancellations and fees.

No news yet on what will happen to the APS April meeting, which is looming in the very near future.

If you are affected by it, I'd like to hear it. Luckily (or unluckily), I wasn't going this year, so I don't have to deal with the mess.


Friday, February 14, 2020

Quantum Entanglement

I made a post quite a while back on "Quantum Entanglement for Dummies" that tried to describe what it is. I emphasized the fact that this phenomenon is different than classical physics because of one every important characteristics of quantum mechanics, which is the superposition principle that is built into the quantum wavefunction. So to be able to understand why quantum entanglement exists and why it is so "spooky", one must first understand the superposition concept.

Don Lincoln has produced a video on quantum entanglement, and if you pay attention closely, he starts off with describing the superposition concept and how that made a quantum system not "predetermined" before a measurement. He also give a good overview on a Bell-type measurement that shows how experiments agree with QM description but not the hidden variables scenario.

A good video to start you off on understanding this phenomenon.


Monday, February 03, 2020

State of the Art of MRI

This is a very good article from Physics Today on the history and development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging, which has become ubiquitous in medical diagnostics. Of course, this came out of the discovery of the nuclear magnetic resonance phenomenon, a technique that itself came out of our understanding of quantum mechanics.

When you read this article, pay attention to how it is continuing to be developed, to evolve, and its continuing improvement. Medical physicists are still actively improving this, and other aspect of the medical field by incorporating things that physicists already know and use. Without advancement in physics, both theoretically and experimentally, there is nothing to trickle down from to the medical field.