Public Relations

Daily Pioneer News

Friday, December 12, 2008

New UWP physics classrooms combine lecture, lab

PLATTEVILLE - When the University of Wisconsin-Platteville's new engineering building opens, physics students will be among a select few in the nation to combine lectures and hands-on lab work during the same class session.

Phillip Young, UWP professor of chemistry and engineering physics, said he and other physics teachers at UWP discussed designing classrooms in the new building that would allow the best ways to teach and learn.

"We decided we would design classrooms around what we understood to be the best pedagogy in physics education research," he said.

The new engineering building will include three classrooms that accommodate 56 students each in a combination lecture/lab setting. Each room will have 14 lab stations with four students at each station. At the same time, the rooms are designed so students will be able to follow a lecture. Each room will have two projector screens and a whiteboard at the front.

Each lab station will include a computer and other commonly used equipment. Additional equipment will be stored in a fourth room that can be accessed easily by instructors in all three of the classrooms.

The combined classroom concept is not common. It currently is being used only at a few other universities around the nation, Young said.

Students learn best in an "active and interactive environment," Young said. The interactive environment means that there is interaction between the student and professor, while the class also is active because the student is "mentally engaged and doing stuff in the classroom instead of just sitting and taking notes."

The configuration will allow the instructor to move fluidly between a lecture, group work on problems, group discussion of concepts, observing experiments and analyzing the results of experiments, he said.

The computer at each workstation also will allow students to collect data, enter it immediately into the computer and observe the graphs or other results.

"They'll be able to see what's going on in a real-time environment instead of waiting until next week to do a lab," Young said.

With 56 students, UWP will retain the same class size for labs that it has now. Some schools using the combined teaching method schedule up to 99 students at a time, he said.

UWP students will put the same number of hours into a class under the new arrangement as they do now. Starting next semester, most classes will meet twice a week for two hours and twice a week for an hour. Currently, most classes meet four times a week for an hour lecture and also include a two-hour lab.

When the new classrooms were designed, Young said care was taken to ensure that professors would be able to teach the way they want. For instance, he said the lecture-lab combinations at some schools are not conducive to a lot of time spent lecturing with a whiteboard or PowerPoint slides.

UWP received a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for equipment and assessment on the transition to the new teaching style. That grant is in tandem with a $50,000 grant to Madison Area Technical College, which uses some similar teaching methods, but with much smaller class sizes.

Students and professors will start using the new physics labs and all of the other facilities in the new engineering building when second-semester classes get under way.

The building at the intersection of Southwest Road and Longhorn Drive will open officially on Saturday, Dec. 13, when Gov. Jim Doyle speaks at an 8 a.m. ceremony.

In addition to physics, the $25.6 million, 108,500-square-foot building will be home to electrical engineering, engineering physics, the general engineering labs and the Nanotechnology Center for Collaborative Research and Development. Student organizations also will have workspace.

For more information on the physics lab-classrooms, contact Young at (608) 342-1406 or

Contact: Phillip Young, UWP professor of chemistry and engineering physics, (608) 342-1406, Written by: Gary Achterberg, UWP Public Relations, (608) 342-1194,

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