In the summer of 2014 I plan to offer an online course called “PHYS 5930 Theoretical Mechanics.” It’s an online version of the course we require our majors to take, though I’m not sure how many Hamline students will sign up, as we make our in-class version work well in their schedule. I want to start brainstorming how the class will go now that 2014 has begun.
My goal is to see if a synchronous online class can meet my expectations for learning outcomes. I’m very leery of asynchronous online courses (using discussion boards, etc) as I’ve taught a few of those in the past. I figured I wanted to try it with a course that didn’t have a lab, and our advanced theory courses seemed to be the best fit.
One big problem is enrollment. If too many (any?) Hamline students sign up, it’ll lower the enrollment in our in-person classes to the point where the dean’s office will be mad. So I’d really like to push this for non-Hamline students. It seems weird to do that, though, so it may be that this is doomed from the start.
But, I still want to get down some thoughts and questions that I have about this course in case it gets some wind in its sails.
When I teach theoretical mechanics, I have the students do an awful lot of computational work using Mathematica. Since students will be registered for the class, they will have access to Mathematica under our license. That’s cool that they can do stuff for class, but less cool that they’ll lose access at the end of the course. I suppose I could embrace something like Sage or python or whatever, but I’ve already indicated what’s missing there.
I have access to a 24-7 Blackboard Collaborate room that I would use for all the synchronous stuff. We’d meet and we’d be able to talk, draw, and share code live. I’ve done a lot of this and I’m pretty sure the software is robust enough for what I need.
A typical meeting: gather, tackle a hard problem in small groups (called rooms), bring the rooms back together to share and compare, repeat. Between classes reading and scasts will be assigned, though I might flip the flip like I’ve done recently.
At Hamline the prerequisites for the course are general physics 2 and differential equations (and, by extension, general physics 1, calc 1, calc 2, and multivariable calculus). Note what’s not in that list: Linear Algebra (I’ve dealt with that here, here, and here), Modern Physics (not really a problem for this), or any other advanced course. If that doesn’t overlap with other school’s issues, then the enrollment won’t be there.
I’ll definitely continue my use of student-voice standards-based grading. Students will make videos and submit them for all their assessments. This has really worked well with my in-class courses, and I don’t see that being worse online.
I really need the students to have the ability to draw on the digital whiteboard in Collaborate. So, I’ll force them to purchase something to get that to work. Here’s what I suggest which only costs $50. To get students to do that, I’ll need the textbook to be free. I pulled that off last spring when I taught the same course in person.
So what do you think. Please poke some holes in this initial offering so I can make it better. Here are some starters for you:
- Cool idea, but I think you should use this tech instead . . .
- This is a crappy idea. Online learning just doesn’t work and here’s why …
- This could be a cool idea, but you really need to add this twist …
- I want to know more about how you’d use the “rooms” in collaborate …
- My students might be interested, but for it to transfer to my school you’d have to add/subtract …
- Mathematica, really?! What are you, a fool?