What’s the point of a first-year physics class?

5 thoughts on “What’s the point of a first-year physics class?”

  1. Are you implying that the role of the instructor is inherently more valuable with higher-level classes? That would make sense given that there’s vastly more content available on line for first-year subject matter. (Though there’s certainly still a lot)

    1. Yes, I would agree with that — that the instructor is more important in higher level classes. In large part, it’s because the material is less standardized, so having someone navigate particular “paths” through it can be useful. There are also some lower-level classes that have non-standard material in which content from the instructor is very valuable. (Several of our “science literacy” classes for non-science majors are like this, for example.)

      1. I like your post a lot, but I don’t agree with this last comment. If instructors are less valuable in intro classes, it is because we have a very poor model for intro classes (which I think your post began to articulate well). If anything, intro classes demand more from the instructor since they are (or should be) introducing students to how a particular field approaches problems. Instead, we have made encyclopedic and superficial intro classes, which indeed makes the instructor largely superfluous. I think that is a tragedy.

  2. Something that professors may become is curators of good content. While it’s true that there is a massive amount of high quality content readily available to anyone with either an internet connection or a library card (whatever that means post-COVID-19), there is also an overwhelming amount of bad content (either delivery or just not correct). While I think it may be useful to encounter such a diverse array of information, perhaps it is now more useful to students, and the instructor’s job, to curate the content to provide a course “soundtrack.”

    1. This is a good point. For an intro-level course, though, I don’t think the curation will take a lot of work compared to making complete lectures. Also, the curation needn’t be done separately at every university. (I’m sure I’d trust U. Washington’s curation of its intro-physics content as much as ours.) For higher-level courses, the curation becomes more personalized, and more challenging.

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