UniServe Science News Volume 7 July 1997

Ian Johnston, Assoc. Professor, School of Physics and Director of UniServe Science, The University of Sydney


Ian Johnston

On April 2-4 of this year, the third Australian Conference on Computers in University Physics Education was held in Brisbane at the Queensland University of Technology. This was the latest in a series of these conferences. OzCUPE1 had been held at The University of Sydney in 1993, and OzCUPE2 at the University of Melbourne in 1995. About 50 academics from physics departments around the country attended, together with visitors from Thailand, Indonesia, New Guinea and the Philippines.

There were four keynote speakers, both local and from overseas:

Shirley Alexander, from the University of Technology Sydney, talked about learning and the design of multimedia in science education, making the point that many of the uses of new technologies are simply repackaging of existing teaching practices which will, at best, result in the same learning outcomes as traditional teaching methods but at a much higher cost. Lawrence Marschall, from Gettysburg College, Pa (USA) described a new package called Contemporary Laboratory Experiences in Astronomy (CLEA), a system containing software, student manuals and teachers' guides which attempts to bring modern research techniques into introductory astronomy laboratories. Ron Thornton, from Tufts University, Boston (USA) described a system of interactive lecture and laboratory modules for enhancing student learning of concepts in classical mechanics, and the educational research on which they are based. Dick Bacon from the University of Surrey (UK), the director of the Physics CTI Centre and leader of the SToMP project, discussed the effects of funding policies in the UK in the last few years and how physics education has benefited.

Contributed papers covered all areas from impressive new software packages to small scale equipment for lecture demonstrations. Presentations of particular interest, at least to this participant, included:

  • the CAUT funded project, Real Physics via the Web, of Jon Pierce and Michelle Levitt from Melbourne University;

  • the analysis of movie stunts with the aid of Interactive Physics, carried out by Suzanne Hogg of University of Technology Sydney;

  • the reports of the attempt by Bob Loss and Des Thornton of Curtin University to introduce Studio format undergraduate physics teaching, following the model described in the article by Jack Wilson on page 3 of this newsletter; and

  • the report of research work carried out by Kirsten Hogg into exactly how students learn in a computer laboratory.

As usual with conferences like this, it is the opportunity for the, by now, close-knit community of physics teachers to get together again, which is most important. To be able to meet every couple of years and find out how various projects have progressed is what makes all the work that the organizers put in worthwhile. So we thank Ian Moore and John Davies for all their efforts and look forward to OzCUPE4 which, with a bit of luck, will be in Perth in September 1998.

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UniServe Science News Volume 7 July 1997

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