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Physics in a digital age.

  1. Jun 15, 2012 #1
    Hello World!

    I am going to college to do physics this year, and there is a issue I have. I have a pretty logical, critical thinking, creative, investigative mind and pretty good imagination of the possibilities that reality can hold. I love how science works and how it helps us to understand the world and how this can improve our quality of life. I consider myself "a mix" between an artist with an inventor and a scientist... the problem is I learn best when the things that I learn are visual. Experiments, videos... like the difference between calculating the distance from point A to point B on paper and seeing a picture of the solar sistem and calculating the distance from Earth to Mars... a good story for every calculation and something to make the calculations more meaningful. How can I get thro college without being boored to death by a 60 year old teacher with a 50 year old educational sistem writing ecuations with chalk on a blackboard, when we are in a digital age, and information is so beautifull aranged on the net, from video to text. Thx in advance.

    EDIT: One solution that I can think of is just research things that I do in college in my free time on the net.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 15, 2012 #2
    My advice to you is to stop romanticizing your situation.

    The university system does not suffer from teaching in an ancient paradigm the way that high schools are criticized of doing. They are quite modern, but you will have to put up with a chalkboard. And if you think that's dull, try listening to an 80 minute powerpoint presentation (a digital era technology).

    More than 2/3 your time spent studying will be outside of class anyways. In that time, you can let your imaginative wings take flight.
  4. Jun 15, 2012 #3
    well maybe in UK, maybe in US, not here... a highschool teacher makes between 250$ and 450$ a month, a college teacher makes between 1000-2000$ a month... a college teacher with 40 years of experience makes 2100$ a month and that is gross income. They don't have money to pay the teachers how modern do you think the schools are ?
  5. Jun 15, 2012 #4
    For physics and related classes involving lots of derivations/calculations, chalkboards are the best way to do it.

    Powerpoints are just.. terrible for any of these sorts of classes. In theory powerpoints can be used effectively, but in practice most teachers end up just reading the calculations off the powerpoint, which is terrible for learning.

    I did have one professor, for intermediate microeconomics, who used powerpoints and frequently left blank/half blank slides for writing stuff. He had some sort of pen input device thing and would proceed to do calculations on the projector that way. That was a nice system, but I don't really feel like it's significantly better than just using a chalkboard (except for practical purposes: it was a large class in a large room, so a chalkboard might have been difficult to see).
  6. Jun 15, 2012 #5

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    If that's how you feel, you shouldn't attend college until you feel differently. You're absolutely right - you won't learn as much.
  7. Jun 15, 2012 #6
    Well I do not have a choice, no one takes you serious without a degree, and even if that didn't matter, it would be hard to learn physics by myself just from books and internet, and for tutor I don't have the money. Booring or not I will go to college and study physics, I only thought I could find a way to make learning more palatable. But I think I will find a way :)
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2012
  8. Jun 15, 2012 #7
    If you think the information on (advanced) physics is beautiful arranged on the internet, you're naive and sadly mistaken. You also fail to see the point that you have as much control over how much you learn in every education system.
  9. Jun 15, 2012 #8


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    First, you need to realize that the point of university lectures is to educate you, not to entertain you. There is a lot of popular material out there online, but the higher up you go, the less of a production it will be. You're not going to find a series of YouTube videos that guide you through a PhD thesis.

    Second, maybe it was said in an exaggerated context, but you seem to be making a lot of assumptions about those 60 year old professors. There's a good chance many of them are more connected than you think. After all, they're the ones who are creating the next generation of technology.

    Finally, to answer your question, you really have to explore your options when picking a university. Many schools are looking into innovative teaching models these days and maybe of of these approaches might work better for you.
  10. Jun 15, 2012 #9
    I was refering to information in general. Every education system has a limit for how much you can learn, everything else like selfstudy, groupstudy, geting a tutor has nothing to do with the education system itself. I had a math tutor in highschool that brought me from a D- student(was a D- student for 3 and a half years) to a A+ student in only 3 months(I love math now :X and got a B+ at my Baccalaureate) because if I didn't understand he would explain it with anything that he had in his house(I would call that a type of teaching system). I think the education system are a reflection of the way teachers teach, and that system can help or not the way teachers deliever the information to the student.

    And there is a big difference in difficulty between SAT test and Romanian Baccalaureate test. This is last year Romanian Baccalaureate math test: http://www.dcnews.ro/2011/06/vezi-subiectele-la-examenul-de-bacalaureat-2011-proba-scrisa-la-matematica-varianta-5-ramai-pe-de-ce-news-pentru-a-afla-baremul-de-corectare/
  11. Jun 15, 2012 #10
    I do not want to be entertained, but why not make physics fun and easy to understand like how Emeritus Walter Lewin does. Here the quality of life is pretty poor and some of the teachers not all of them are not enthusiastic about teaching anymore, and that reflects on the student. It's all about the teacher. These types of teachers like Emeritus Walter Lewin, Mehran Sahami, Marian Diamond and so many others makes you interested in those subjects even if you don't care about them.
  12. Jun 15, 2012 #11


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    Learning intro physics from slides *might* be okay, but i'd still much prefer a blackboard.

    For upper level classes, I'd argue that a blackboard is the only way to go. I had really engaging profs for both quantum mechanics and stat mech, and neither of them used anything more than the blackboard. It's much better to be able to start at the beginning of a derivation and try go through it along with the prof, than to just be presented with equations. For my course on relativistic electrodynamics, the guy used slides, and it was terrible, because it was just one equation after another being *displayed* to us. How are you supposed to learn from that, or even pay attention to it? At the end of the day, how pretty the information looks is not important. What is important is how well it is explained, and how well the lecturer is able to keep your mind engaged with and interested in what is going in. Check out Walter Lewin's intro physics lectures on the MIT open courseware website. Most engaging lectures I've seen in a while, and entirely chalkboard.

    Edit: I see that you mentioned Walter Lewin, which is weird, because although I agree that his lecturing style is unique and superior to many others, the *medium* that he uses to convey his information is about as old school as it gets. It's certainly not digital!

    Are there situations where modern scientific visualization tools (eg colour, or 3D renderings) might aid understanding? Sure, but less so than you might think, esp in more advanced physics. Generally speaking, the more advanced the level of the textbook, the shorter it is, and the fewer the illustrations it has (and it's certainly not in colour). This is because the reader has the mathematical tools necessary to dive into a more direct treatment of the models, and simple plots (ie graphs) can convey information concisely, without the need for fancy visualizations.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2012
  13. Jun 15, 2012 #12
    I like oldschool when the teacher is good at explaining and no technology will replace a good teacher. But if the teacher is bad I think other options should be available.
  14. Jun 15, 2012 #13
    The other option is basically learn from the textbook and/or online resources.
  15. Jun 15, 2012 #14
    Actually it has everything to do with funding. Lots of people take first year physics, not many people take Quantum Mechanics II.
  16. Jun 15, 2012 #15
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2012
  17. Jun 15, 2012 #16

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    Walter Lewin is a 60 year old teacher (more actually( writing ecuations with chalk on a blackboard. Does anyone else see the irony?
  18. Jun 15, 2012 #17
    I did say there is no replacement for a good teacher. I was talking about the way romanian teachers teach, and how the poor quality of life affects the way they teach. The example that I gave about a 60 year old teacher... was just a example not a generalization of all older teachers. I was strictly referring about those few bad teachers that you encounter at college, a option to make learning easier for those situations.
  19. Jun 15, 2012 #18
    Ok so given that this thread has progressed quite a bit, let me ask you, what is it exactly that you are asking?
  20. Jun 15, 2012 #19
    An option of learning physics when teachers can't make you understand, and taking in to account that I learn best when visuals are involved. Ex: I have a book that fits the bill but for highschool Physics 12 McGraw-Hill Ryerson, I do not have one similar for college.
  21. Jun 15, 2012 #20
    learning on power point or some other type of electronic usually distracts the students and draws his attention to other things (probably put this point in too late).
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