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Cornell University
LASSP -  Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics

Cornell Laboratory for Atomic and Solid State Physics

Natasha Holmes Helps Physics Teachers Transition to Online Teaching

APS Physics Editorial honors Natasha Homes amongst others for helping Physics Teachers making the transition to teaching online during the COVID pandemic.

The rapid switch to online teaching earlier this year was a huge and stressful adjustment, but physics teachers also learned valuable new tools and practices.

Group Dynamics Matter

My team develops introductory labs for undergraduates. In the shift to remote instruction, I found that the biggest loss was in the interactions with and between students. As we prepare for continued online instruction in the Fall, we are therefore deliberately structuring group interactions.

For example, we used to randomly assign students to groups of two to three. We’d then have students change groups a couple of times each semester. This year, we’ll instead survey students about their group-work preferences, asking whether they prefer to take a particular role, have a team leader, tinker with equipment before deciding what to do, and so on. These responses will help us form the groups. A couple of weeks into the semester, students will be asked to evaluate their group-work experiences, themselves, and their team. We will intervene if there are any issues. Each group will document how its members are participating in lab activities, so that they can consider whether their group work is fair and equitable. Finally, we will create ways for the students to check in with other groups and discuss their work.

These structures would have seemed burdensome before the pandemic. Now, they seem necessary to support students’ sense of community and sense of belonging. It’s also become clear that this kind of structure is important no matter how we teach, so we’ll continue to use it when we return to in-person instruction.

Natasha Holmes is the Ann S. Bowers Assistant Professor of Physics at Cornell University.

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