UniServe Science News Volume 9 March 1998


Asian Physics Education Network (ASPEN), 1997

Ian Johnston, Director UniServe Science
The University of Sydney

On December 2-6 of last year, a conference entitled "University Physics Education for the 21st Century", was held in Shah Alam, Malaysia. This was the second conference in a series: the first had been held in Manila the year before. It was organized by the Asian Physics Education Network (ASPEN), a group which operates under the auspices of UNESCO to promote and communicate developments in university physics education in the Asian region.

The conference was attended by representatives from all over Asia - Australia, Bangledesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philipines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. There were six invited keynote speakers, who also ran whole-day workshops. These were:

  • Diane Grayson (Mathematics, Science and Technology Education College, Pietersburg, South Africa) who described a new institution and courses given to practising teachers in South Africa to upgrade their qualifications;

  • David Wheeler (Mahanakorn University of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand) who explained how his institution copes with large classes and inexperienced lecturing staff, and how they also help school teachers;

  • Mike Tinker (University of Reading, UK) who spoke about the FLAP (Flexible Learning Approach to Physics) project;

  • Dean Zollman (University of Kansas, USA) who gave an overview of the use of multimedia in physics teaching and some new examples;

  • Ian Johnston (UniServe Science) who spoke about whether multimedia had been successful in Australia in the last decade; and

  • Priscilla Laws (Dickinson College, USA) who described the use of microcomputer based laboratory tools in physics teaching.

Contributed papers covered all areas from impressive new course textbooks to small scale equipment for lecture demonstrations. It would be invidious to single out individual speakers, but the topics which I found particularly interesting included: UNESCO funded projects in India and China to write textbooks for the Asian education scene, and the piloting of these courses in the Philipines; problems with poor school teacher training and how universities in PNG are trying to help; interesting research from India into students' ability to apply skills learned in the physics laboratory to the real world; the bad state of physics teaching in Laos and the need for national institutions; difficulties in physics teaching in Vietnam and problem of falling enrollments (this problem is the same the world over!)

As usual with conferences like this, what is most important is the opportunity to meet others in different parts of the world and find out at first hand how they handle the same problems we ourselves face. You will not be surprised that I tried my hardest to persuade all I talked to what a wonderful organization UniServe Science is, and why didn't they set up such an organization in the different countries represented. One of the most interesting ideas much talked about at the conference was the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), an initiative of Dr Mahatir to encourage something like Silicon Valley in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Perhaps once that comes to fruition (after the current currency crisis has passed) one of its features will be a UniServe Asia. How's that for an idea?

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UniServe Science News Volume 9 March 1998

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