Editorial: New physics classroom design benefits students

The UConn physics department made some beneficial changes recently (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

At the University of Connecticut, students are used to taking classes in vast lecture halls while a seasoned professor drones on in the front of the class and the majority of students are watching Tasty videos on their laptops. It is the norm around here, and most people don’t try to alter or change that system. However, recently UConn’s physics department decided to shake things up a little bit with more radical change than a simple flipped classroom.

Instead of the typical class design that students are used to, students in PHYS 1602: Fundamentals of Physics II are rarely bored in lecture, nor are they given the opportunity to be. Rather than listening to 50 or 75 minutes of lecture, these students are given a short lecture which is then followed by time for the students to use their newly acquired knowledge for some hands-on practice in small groups. This application of knowledge in real time not only helps the students better understand the material that they just learned, but it also provides a great avenue for students to ask questions that they might not have thought of prior to the activity.

This new classroom design may seem like a radical change from what one typically thinks of as a UConn physics class, and it is. However, that does not make it a bad thing. Every student has sat through a lecture without absorbing any of the information regardless of whether or not they were listening. Being told to just “read the textbook” often does not cut it when it comes to classes that don’t have relatable examples. By providing students with a platform to see how the information they are learning can be practiced, even in the lower-level introductory science courses, sets students up to have a greater understanding of these topics in the future.

In addition to giving students a more practical understanding of the course material, the new classroom design comes with other benefits. The setup also allows students to gain more practice working in a team setting, which is beneficial preparation for joining the work force. Additionally, it lowers the instructor-student ratio, giving students a smaller learning environment and a better opportunity to get to know their instructors. This in turn can allow a student to feel more comfortable and less intimidated in the classroom than they might have felt in a large lecture-style class.

Overall, this new classroom style will definitely take some adjustment for students as it is a far cry from UConn’s typical style of teaching; but, it seems that this new method will be beneficial for students in more ways than one. In the future, more departments should look to follow the physics department’s lead in trying out new methods of teaching to make learning more productive and interactive for students.