Introducing Critical Thinking in a Prelab Environment

Our community partners do some pretty incredible things with PlayPosit. This week we're highlighting how the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) reimagined the prework for their introductory physics lab by embedding questions into custom videos to challenge learners to think critically before they even step into the lab.

CU Boulder's Physics Lab faced a predicament with which many universities and their faculty are familiar. It is difficult to strike a balance between providing learners the foundations necessary to complete a lab assignment while also allowing for sufficient time to engage with the materials and tools. Traditional handouts might go unread and instructors miss out on valuable data that could inform them of concepts that learners find challenging.

Check out CU Boulder's full refereed conference proceeding to find out how they utilized the power of PlayPosit to reimagine the lab prework experience.

In Our Partner's Words
"Although lab courses can be a great opportunity for students to engage in hands-on learning, the structure of such courses also puts a premium on class time-- students who don't finish the experiment during the scheduled class time are typically unable to finish taking their data at home, and may not be able to reach all the learning goals for that lab. Sometimes, this pressure leads to labs in which the students are merely following a long list of step-by-step instructions. This helps ensure that they finish on time, but deprives the students of one of the most valuable activities: open inquiry and self-directed exploration. For our course, PlayPosit offered a better solution: by producing short 'prelab' videos with embedded questions for the students to watch in advance, we were able to introduce the students to some of the more challenging background information about the labs, leaving them more time to engage with the equipment, measurements, and analysis in class. The interactive features of the videos also helped us make sure that the students were taking them seriously and encouraged the students to think critically about the lab activity before showing up to the class. We found that the prelab videos allowed us to include more open-ended lab designs, and our assessments and student interviews also suggested that the students generally found them fun and valuable." -- H. J. Lewandowski and Colin G. West, University of Colorado Boulder

Heather J. Lewandowski received her B.S. in physics from Michigan Technological University in 1997 and her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2002. She was then a National Research Council Postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder. She is currently a professor and associate chair of physics at the University of Colorado, and a fellow of JILA. She leads two research programs, one in experimental molecular physics, and the other in physics education research. Her molecular physics research efforts focus on studying interactions and reactions of cold, chemically important molecules and ions. Her physics education research program studies ways to increase students’ proficiency in scientific practices such as using models and quantitative reasoning in experimental physics. 

Colin G. West received bachelors degrees in Engineering Physics and Applied Mathematics from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and holds a PhD in computational quantum information theory from the C. N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. After graduate school, he was an HHMI Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he worked on disorder in quantum systems as well as course transformation projects in introductory physics. He currently continues work in both topics as full-time teaching faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Check out CU Boulder's full refereed conference proceeding here.

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