If You’re Not Falling, You’re Not Learning! (or, how Physical Sciences students learn to “ski”)Submitted by Maggie Geppert, Physics

Over the last three years, the Physical Science Department has assessed at least one outcome in each course every semester. Faculty began by working together to define the successful outcomes and continue to collaborate to develop and implement each year’s assessment plan. Findings are analyzed, and then results are shared and used to shape future teaching methods. Check out this example of how the department is helping students learn!

Error analysis and our students: Skiers were riding the chair lift before learning the rope tow!

  • Error analysis is a crucial skill in the workforce and is used by scientists, engineers, and lab technicians.
  • Faculty assumed that students knew how to analyze errors or could pick it up easily enough, so had been teaching this skill intermittently or not at all.
  • The Icy Reality: Assessments revealed that students were not able to write error analyses accurately.

What to do? Faculty saw that beginners need lessons!

  • The department collaborated to spread out the instruction for error analysis intensively and deliberately across all three semesters of the 200-level physics courses.

The Bunny Hill in PHY 201

  • Students learn how to identify and classify errors over the entire semester of this course, including in lab activities.
  • These activities are progressively more difficult and actively reinforce the skills students learn in previous labs.
  • They culminate in an assessment of their ability to identify and classify errors in the penultimate lab of the semester.

The Intermediate Slopes in PHY 202

  • This class starts with an activity to remind students what they know about identification and classification of error.
  • Next, students are taught how to understand the qualitative effect an error has on their data; (is it producing data that is too high or low?).
  • The class continues by discussing how to mitigate those errors within the context of the lab; (no, you cannot mitigate air resistance by sucking all of the air out of the classroom!).
  • This level of student achievement is measured about two-thirds of the way through the semester.

The Black Diamond: Coming Soon to PHY 203

  • The department plans to develop a set of activities to introduce students to the idea of quantitative error analysis, known as propagation of error.
  • This technique is used by scientists to determine the mathematical effect of each error on their data set.

To learn more about these cool concepts or how to use assessment to improve student learning, contact:

See you on the slopes!