Active Learning in Optics and Photonics (ALOP)

An estimated 1.9 million more teachers will be needed in classrooms by 2015. In 2010, the Education for All Global Monitoring Report called for “strengthening of the learning environment by providing highly skilled teachers”. The Active Learning in Optics and Photonics program (ALOP) – a UNESCO’s International Basic Sciences Programme (IBSP) flagship activity – is contributing to the solution.

Tackling the problem at its source, ALOP trains educators with hopes that it will enable them to develop professionally and pass on their skills to their students. ALOP workshops provide participants with an introductory update in the fields of optics and photonics, and strategies for teaching that are active and that have been demonstrated to be more effective than traditional methods.

Since 2004, ALOP workshops have included over 1,000 teachers from 55 developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America (with the most being from around 20 countries in Africa). There have also been several follow-up workshops to train trainers, by giving them the opportunity to work as assistant facilitators.


An effective model

ALOP workshops are based on the ALOP Training Manual (published by UNESCO) that contains six optics and photonics modules as well as active, hands-on applications using low-cost, locally available materials. The participants—experienced university professor and secondary teachers—first share their backgrounds and the difficulties they encounter in teaching optics at their schools. They then work through the six modules: Geometrical Optics, Lenses and Optics of the Eye, Interference and Diffraction, Atmospheric Optics, Optical Data Transmission and Wavelength Division Multiplexing. They also learn about assessment of their students’ knowledge using the Light and Optics Conceptual Evaluation (LOCE). At the end of the workshop, Optics and Photonics kits (complete with lasers, diffraction gratings, lenses and even rulers and clay) are distributed to participants, providing them the means of practically carrying out the student activities from the Manual when they return to their schools.

Statistics demonstrate the effectiveness of the program, with a remarkable difference between average pre and post-scores on the LOCE for workshop participants. Since the ALOP Training Manual has now been translated from English into several languages (French, Spanish and Arabic—with more under development) workshops cut across cultural boundaries.

To participate in ALOP, applicants are asked to supply personal and pedagogical details about themselves, such as the topic of their research, the conditions for teaching optics at their schools, and any previous participation in workshops. Participants fill out an evaluation form at the end of the workshop, and their answers have been used to improve ALOP.

The Organization’s mission to enable youth scientifically is clearly supported by this program. ALOP also exemplifies how UNESCO’s International Basic Sciences Programme (IBSP) works hand-in-hand with its partners like the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) and sponsors to ensure that the physics education goals adopted in 2005 at the World Conference on Physics and Sustainable Development are achieved.

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