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Universities Overcome Bumps in Transition to Online Teaching

5/19/2020 1:28:33 PM

Physics graduate student Shubhang Goswami measures superconductivity in thin films. The experiment is part of a senior-level lab course at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Undergraduates participate remotely and can partially control the measurements. Photo by Brian DeMarco

Photo: Physics graduate student Shubhang Goswami measures superconductivity in thin films. The experiment is part of a senior-level lab course at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Undergraduates participate remotely and can partially control the measurements. Image by Brian DeMarco.
 

From Physics Today 73, 6, 22 (2020); https://doi.org/10.1063/PT.3.4492

Teachers at universities worldwide are catching their breath as the first term in mass online teaching wraps up. The shuttering of campuses when social distancing was implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19 set off a scramble to deliver college education remotely. Faculty had to move their courses online, work from home, and engage students who had varying external distractions and uneven internet access. The difficulties of the transition—including the thorny issue of exams—cut across all subjects, but huge introductory classes and laboratory instruction pose particular challenges in physics.
 
“Our goal was to provide all components of instruction, even while satisfying constraints and accommodating students who have challenges at home,” says Brian DeMarco, associate head for undergraduate programs in physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Courses that serve engineers still have to meet the certification requirements for engineering, he says, and in the US all courses must comply with FERPA, the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. For example, graded assignments have to be returned to students via secure systems, not by email; and students cannot be identified in publicly accessible videos.