The Workshop Tutorial Project was implemented to develop cooperative learning thematic workshops across a large range of topics for first year physics students.† The Project is a collaboration between the University of Sydney, University of New South Wales, Australian Catholic University, University of Western Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney. It has been supported by an Australian Government National Teaching Development Grant over two years commencing in May 2000.† The Workshops grew from the perceived need to provide students with an opportunity to use and discuss the material that was being shown to them in traditional lectures. They can easily be inserted into any standard teaching program and using the electronic version can easily be reorganised where necessary to suit any syllabus. Most Workshops have three different versions: an introductory version, a version suitable for students in the physical sciences and engineering and a version for students in the life sciences.
From research in physics education, there is increasing awareness that students come into a physics class with firmly held beliefs and conceptions, which cannot be ignored.† The Workshop Tutorials use hands-on activities and probing questions to facilitate conceptual change and support learning processes.† The style of the questions and activities was chosen to provide a mixture of quantitative and qualitative concept-based questions and concrete hands-on activities.
Evaluations of the Workshop Tutorials have shown them to be popular with students, and studentsí feelings about the learning style have been almost wholly positive. Evaluations have been done at the University of Sydney, where the tutorial design originated, and at the Australian Catholic University, University of Western Sydney and University of New South Wales.
At the University of Sydney the Workshop Tutorials were designed deliberately to not be part of the formal assessment procedure. This allowed students to openly discuss problems in physics and explore different avenues of solution without feeling that there is one correct solution that must be marked. This produces a stress free environment with student-driven rather than assessment-driven learning. The control and responsibility for learning rests with the students. The solutions are provided to students as they leave the class giving them immediate feedback on their ideas.
Increasing emphasis is being placed on the generic skills possessed by university graduates, and employer surveys show that communication skills, teamwork skills and problem solving skills can be more important to prospective employers than subject specific knowledge. The Workshop Tutorials provide students with an opportunity to extend their knowledge base by applying theory to practice in familiar and unfamiliar situations and by learning to communicate that knowledge. Student thinking skills are enhanced by problem solving, and by providing a non-threatening environment in which students can think creatively. Collaborative learning improves communication skills, both written and oral, as well as the ability to work with others in a team and the acceptance of personal responsibility.
The Workshop Tutorial Project is presented in three volumes. The first volume covers Mechanics, Properties of Matter and Thermodynamics and the second covers Electromagnetism, Waves (including Optics) and Quantum Mechanics (including Nuclear and Atomic Physics). The third volume describes the hands-on activities for all topics with descriptions of the apparatus and the physics illustrated in each case.
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