Date: Sat, 14 May 2011 11:01:18

Author: --- "Ann Reagan"

Subject: Re: defending the lab course


Stan and all,

I just completed a detailed research survey and analysis into practices for and perceptions of online physics labs. The results showed the following:

1) Largest reasons for opposition to online physics labs among physics faculty: Equates to the elimination of a laboratory program or its replacement with simulations.

2) Current incidence of use of simulations-only in first-semester online physics courses: 4 out of 455 US secondary institutions (2 and 4 year) offering an introductory physics course that were surveyed, of a population of over 4400 US degree-granting institutions (or, statistically, in the noise).

Current research in modeling and studio physics may help your case, which show greatest gains in conceptual understanding the more tightly the hands-on laboratory interaction is tied to the lecture/text content, and not by divorcing the classroom from the practice.

Please keep us all posted on your progress.


Dr. Ann M. Reagan
Adjunct Professor of Physics
Division of Mathematics, Physics, and Engineering
College of Southern Maryland

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Stan Dodds
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2011 10:17 AM
To: Listserv TAP-L
Subject: [tap-l] defending the lab course

Rice's Provost has just informed my Dean and department chair that
introductory physics labs are useless because they only cover trivial
material like mechanics and electricity. They should therefore be
abolished in favor of computer simulations at most, and preferably no
lab instruction at all. What he really means is that labs require
space, teaching personnel, and supplies, and he wants to use those
resources to support something else, probably externally-funded

I intend to argue that introductory labs are necessary to develop
skills, such as data taking and analysis, that are essential to later
projects or research, and serve more immediately to reinforce concepts
taught abstractly in class. However, pedagogical concerns are less
likely to influence the current administration than comparisons with
standard practice at other institutions. To that end, I would like to
know how others run the introductory lab for physical science and
engineering students. Specifically:

Is there a laboratory component or course required with freshman

What format is used? For example, conventional "cookbook" labs,
workshop style with integrated lecture/lab, something in between?

How frequent are lab sessions, and how long do they meet?

If students work in groups, how many to a group?

How many students does each instructor supervise in a session?

Are simulations used exclusively? at all?

How are results reported and graded? Lab notebook, work sheet,
informal summary....?

To avoid clutter on TAP-L, please respond directly to
If you prefer to provide a link to your student materials, I can
probably extract the necessary information myself.

I apologize for inflicting yet another survey, but I suspect many of
you will be facing similar challenges as budgets continue to tighten
and administrators become ever more distant from actual students and
teaching. Assuming there is interest, I will summarize the results for
the list, without identifying individual programs.

Rice University, Houston