‘Active learning’ technique gives physics a facelift in Asia

29 June 2001 UNESCO and the the Asian Physics Education Network (ASPEN) are promoting an innovative ‘active learning’ approach to physics teaching at the introductory and university levels as a means of stimulating students’ interest in the subject.

The ‘active learning’ technique is student-centred and has been designed to be relevant to the Asian context. It encourages the student to participate in the learning process. Activity-based, the method involves the use of computers, demonstrations and experiments in the classroom.

In the chapter on Science education, the Science Agenda recommends that ‘new curricula, teaching methodologies and resources taking into account gender and cultural diversity be developed by national education systems in response to the changing educational needs of societies.’

Conceptual understanding assessment tests have shown active learning to be effective in increasing both the student’s interest in, and understanding of, physics. Encouraged by initial feedback, ASPEN is pursuing regional activities and offering support to a number of country initiatives.

This support includes the organization of a number of national workshops, the most recent of which was held at the Universiti Tenaga Nasional in Selangor (Malaysia) from 13 to 15 June 2001.

The Science Agenda also advocates ‘taking steps to’promote the professional development of teachers and educators in the face of change and ... to address the lack of appropriately trained science teachers and educators, in particular in developing countries’.

Teaching staff are not overlooked in the project. As follow-up to the active learning workshops, ASPEN organized a first trainers’ workshop from 26 February to 2 March 2001, at which selected physics teachers from ASPEN member countries were shown how to organize their own workshops and adapt the active learning technique to their respective countries. A digital video of the workshop is to be made available online soon.

With university physics teachers in mind, UNESCO and ASPEN are developing different instructional materials and modules for classroom activities. These materials and modules will soon be available via the UNESCO Jakarta Office or ASPEN websites.

Current ground-breaking projects include the development of ‘virtual’ lecture demonstration video clips recorded on CD ROM for use in supplementing ‘real’ lecture demonstrations (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia) and a series of non-micro-computer-based interactive lecture demonstrations (Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines).

An existing Foundation Course in Physics will also incorporate the ‘active-learning’ approach in future. The Foundation Course in Physics is part of a project launched by UNESCO’s Science Sector in 1990, entitled University Foundation Courses in the Basic Sciences. The project took off in Asia through ASPEN and resulted in the production of textbooks, laboratory manuals, video clips and computer simulation software.

The core material of the Foundation Course, The Fundamentals of Physics, was recently made available online (Yvonne: this is the link to add here: http:www.unesco.or.id/prog/science/basic/bs-publ.htm) as a first step in the revision process.

Source: jakarta@unesco.org