Timothy J. Stelzer

Professor Timothy Stelzer received his bachelor's degree in physics from St. John's University (1988) and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1993). After working as a senior research assistant in the Center for Particle Theory at Durham University (UK), he joined the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois as a postdoctoral research associate in 1995. Active in theoretical high–energy physics, he is currently a research associate professor at the university.

Professor Stelzer has been heavily involved with the Physics Education Group at Illinois, where he has led the development and implementation of tools for assessing the effectiveness of educational innovations in the introductory courses and expanding the use of web technology in physics pedagogy. He was instrumental in the development of the i>clickerâ„¢ and is a regular on the University's "Incomplete List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students." He was named University of Illinois Distinguished Teacher-Scholar in 2009.

Mats Selen

Professor Mats Selen received bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Guelph (1982), an M.Sc. in physics from Guelph (1983), and an M.A. in physics from Princeton University (1985). He received his Ph.D. in physics from Princeton (1989). He was a research associate at the Cornell Electron Storage Ring (CESR) at Cornell University from 1989-1993. He joined the Department of Physics at Illinois in 1993 as an assistant professor and, since 2001, has been a full professor.

Since arriving at Illinois, he has been a prime mover behind the massive curriculum revision of the calculus-based introductory physics courses (Physics 211-214), and he was the first lecturer in the new sequence. He created an undergraduate "discovery" course where freshmen create their own physics demonstrations, and developed the Physics Van Outreach program, in which physicists visit elementary schools to share enthusiasm for science). Professor Selen played a key role in the development of i>clicker™.

Gary Gladding

Professor Gary Gladding, a high energy experimentalist, joined the Department of Physics at Illinois as an assistant professor in 1973, after receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard (1971). He has been involved in experiments using the silicon vertex detector (CLEO II) at the Wilson Synchrotron Laboratory at Cornell University to study charmed meson decays, and he has made numerous original contributions to high energy experiments at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. He was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society for his contributions to the improvement of large enrollment introductory physics courses.

Since 1996, Professor Gladding has led the faculty group responsible for the success of the massive curriculum revision that has transformed the introductory physics curriculum here at Illinois. This effort has involved more than 50 faculty and improved physics instruction for more than 25,000 science and engineering undergraduate students. He has shifted his research focus over the last five years to physics education research (PER) and currently leads the PER research group. He is also heavily involved in preparing at-risk students for success in physics coursework through the development of Physics 100. Professor Gladding was also a key player in the creation and develpoment of i›clicker™.

The Impact of PreLecture Activities in the Calculus-Based Physics Course


A: We would ask students, "What did you like the most and the least?" The thing is most of them said they never looked at the book. The students were not reading the book and it was bad for us, because in a lecture, if you can"t assume that a student has seen any of the material, you kind of have to assume they've seen nothing. So our idea for smartPhysics was to have something that the students will look at before the lecture – not to make it too onerous... it should take them maybe 15 minutes or half an hour, so the idea is we're going to have these PreLectures and these are going to be offered online, so there are animated, narrated things. Students, by looking at those 8 or 10 slides, they will get the same information that they would have by reading that chapter in the book. So it takes the place of the book in a sense for the students. But the good thing is, since it's offered online from our servers, we can tell what they did and we can give them a point or two points or whatever we decide for doing it.


A: In our research in the PER group, we came across some literature called Multimedia Learning, which reports that students learn better from multimedia then they do from, for example, reading a text. And there were a lot of experiments and psychology that show this. We wonder if that actually translated into Physics. And so we conducted some experiments and in fact found that it did. Students performed much better after viewing these PreLectures and then answering questions on tests than students who were given the same material in a textbook format. And so that allowed us to then think on a much bigger scale and create these things for an entire course. But now, by forcing them to do the PreLecture, which we can because it's all logged somewhere on a computer and therefore they get points – we can give points! We could never give 'em points for reading, but we can give 'em points for doing the PreLecture. But what that does is brings students to the Lecture experience knowing a little bit of something about what we're talking about. This is a huge help. I think the PreLecture serve a purpose, implementing as a way to get the students ready to have a interactive and engaging lecture experience.


A: The big advantage, then, is when students come to lecture, we do not need to devote the time to providing students with content. Rather, we can spend the time having the students assimilate that content into knowledge. So it really transforms the atmosphere in the lecture, and makes it much more interactive and according to the students, much more valuable.


Lecturing in Calculus–Based Physics


A: " really makes the students participate and so now, the beautiful thing is that when I stand in front of my class, I know exactly what they worked on last night. I know exactly what they looked at, and so I can remind them. I can put it in my PowerPoint presentation that I use in my lecture, I can include material that I used in my PreLecture, and we can discuss it like we both went through the PreLecture together. And so we have a common ground for moving forward with the material. And what it does, is it changes completely the way you can behave in your classroom. As an instructor, there's nothing more liberating then going into my classroom and facing all my students and knowing what they've seen, that they've looked at this material the night before. I don't have to guess what they know – I know what they've looked at, so it gives me a starting point which is not on the ground floor anymore. I can meet them half way and take it from there. And it's really very nice. It's much more fun than it really has been before.


A: Rather than just broadcasting information to the students, we can spend a fair fraction of our lecture time asking questions: Asking questions, asking students to talk to their neighbors, and vote on answers, and resolve things. And so we're constantly, every five or ten minutes or something like that, we are asking yet another questions so that students can't fall asleep because we're asking questions, they're responding, they want to know the answer – and therefore the lecture experience now is one of the most satisfying experiences I've had lecturing...


A: Certainly we still discuss the topics and the basic content, but we spend most of our time talking about how this would apply to different situations to really help them understand the meaning of F=MA or how it would apply in different situations. So it's a very different environment, students are very engaged, and it's a really fun way to teach.


The Role of the Textbook in Calculus-Based Physics


A: You may want to complain about students and say they should just learn to read the textbook. But in fact, reading the textbook is fairly difficult because traditionally, it really had an impossible role. It had to be the entire course. It had to be the introduction to the material all the way through the most difficult aspects of the material. And that is very difficult for a student to read. One of the great advantages of Prelectures is that it frees up the textbook. No longer is the book entire course, it's just one component. So you'll see the textbook is much smaller, it's only a few hundred pages for an entire semester, and it reads much easier. It's really a narrative. And we try and focus on what a textbook can do really well. We're then allowed to have each component of the course do what it can do best.


A: Our experience was the students didn't use the textbook at all. In surveys, 70% of them said they never looked at it prior to coming to lecture. You can imagine their state of preparedness prior to coming to lecture. If you look at regular textbook, they try to be all things to all people. They try to solve all possible problems. Most textbooks become monster tones that try to do everything. There are problems in there, hints, tips, blah blah blah--anything but a text. What we felt was needed was to tell a story. We want to tell a story in a fairly small, unobtrusive textbook that you can easily carry around also without extra help. We did not want to interrupt that story with blue boxes, and yellow boxes with tips and hints and pretty pictures of surfers or whatever distracts students. But one thing that we've learned from this is that you want to let the student focus on what is essential, and not introduce any extraneous material. And so that's what we try to do in the textbook. The textbook is simply the flow, the telling of the story, illustrated by pictures and equations as they fit into the text. Nothing extra is added – just the facts, man.


Online Homework in smartPhysics


One aspect of the smartPhysics system is our online homework system. We view homework as being a learning experience, the time when the student learns to try to apply the concepts from the PreLectures and the Lectures in terms of doing concrete homework problems. Our system has many pieces to it that try to support this goal. We have Interactive Examples in which, if the student hangs in there long enough, the student's going to get it right. What we're trying to do in those interactive examples is model an approach to problem-solving so that the student can kind of do that approach later on his or her own. We also have standard homework problems with immediate feedback, including feedback from common wrong answers to help guide them as well. But finally we have some delayed feedback questions in which we give them no feedback until after the deadline. After the deadline, it turns into an immediate feedback problem. But these delayed feedback questions allow the student to know where he or she is. We're not giving you any help – this is like an exam. Tell me what this answer is and then you'll find out later whether you were right or wrong. Once you find out if you were wrong, we'll let you continue to work on it for another week, and you get 80% of the credit. So it doesn't really hurt your grade as much, so you think of it as a learning process. So I think this homework system is well-matched with the other components of the smartPhysics system.


The Student Experience with smartPhysics


A: The student experience of smartPhysics we've seen to be a very positive one. In particular we've seen that students perceive that they're understanding material better than before they used smartPhysics. In particular, they have told us that they think the course is in fact not one of the hardest courses in the university, which it was considered before. They see it as an easier course, they have a more positive experience of Physics, and they value the lecture much more. So the overall student perspective is that we have a much happier student doing smartPhysics, and we think they've actually learned something more as well.


A: With the smartPhysics learning system, there are really multiple aspects to it, each being important to help the students understand the material. There's the first exposure that students have in the PreLecture. That is reinforced in a deeper understanding in the Lecture, then students can look in the textbook to help put the whole story together, or to brush up on parts they found particularly difficult. Then of course there's the homework where they can really apply everything they've learned and make sure they're solid on all the applications of all the material.


A: The proof is in the pudding though, right? At the end of the semester we ask the students to evaluate the course. We ask them first of all, how valuable were the PreLectures, and they found them very valuable. But the thing that I love the most is we asked them how valuable the lectures were. Because you would worry that if you have all this lecture material online, students would gravitate toward that and would think the lectures were a waste of time. Not at all the case! Twice as many students – 80% of the students now say that the lectures are valuable or very valuable. We give them a ranking system. So twice as many students as before tell us the lectures are really good and very valuable for them. And I like to think the course was good before this. So it's not like we were doing a bad job before – we were doing as good as you could do, and now it's twice as good. Can't beat that!