The school was at the forefront of a move to make virtual learning more commonplace with its decision to incorporate virtual learning in its physics instruction

How physics instruction moved online at Oregon State University

The school was at the forefront of a move to make virtual learning more commonplace with its decision to incorporate the approach in its physics instruction

Two years before the pandemic hit, Oregon State University’s Physics Department, with support from its highly successful Ecampus program, set out to create its first online introductory physics sequence. The OSU Physics department is well-regarded for its adoption of evidence-based instructional practices (EBIPS) and leveraged this knowledge to reform the introductory sequence.

A major component of the reform included developing a flipped classroom model through the backwards design of course learning objectives. These reforms, while many years before the official start of the Ecampus project, were informed by knowledge that the intro sequence would someday need to go online.

Getting started

In some sense, the Ecampus project began when the on-campus intro sequence reform started, six years ago. At that time, most content provided by publishers was centered on traditional lectures and existing textbook frameworks. The reform team spent a year discovering that students in the modern digital age do not study the way students of the past used to. Students favor Google and YouTube videos over long textbook chapters.

Driven by a passion to make education more affordable and the lack of resources designed for a modern flipped classroom, the reform team embarked on creating its own open education resources (OER). By 2017, the on-campus intro sequence dropped the publisher’s textbook, replacing it with nearly 300 pre-lecture videos filmed in house, many in the department’s new Lightboard Studio.

A course website,, was created to host the videos the team developed and to curate the existing online resources. BoxSand now hosts nearly 1,000 custom videos that explain physics concepts and show problem solving strategies. The site also has short text explanations, concept maps, study sheets, pro tips, example problems, links to YouTube videos, sensemaking strategies, and, for more traditional learners, links to the relevant chapters in an OER textbook from the folks at OpenStax. The website is also a research tool the BoxSand team uses to perform educational data mining and predictive analytics, but that is a whole other story all together.

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