As the university moves forward, important lessons gleaned from online physics instruction will inform future decisions about virtual programs

Lessons learned from bringing physics instruction online at Oregon State


As the university moves forward, important lessons gleaned from online physics instruction will inform future decisions about virtual programs

This is Part 2 of a two-part series about OSU’s Ecampus program. Part 1 looked at how Oregon State University brought its physics instruction online through the Ecampus program.

Our university’s Ecampus program helps students–both those on and off campus–engage in evidence-based practices and utilize a complete host of Open Education Resources. This modular curriculum, which removes barrier to access and is centered on active engagement and peer-learning, went live five months before the pandemic hit.

Luckily, when learning went remote because of COVID, students in the program experienced little change when it came to their physics instruction. Ecampus provided a much-needed constant in a quickly changing world.

Keeping the communication going

To create a vibrant community in this curriculum, we use the communications platform Slack extensively. On Slack, we have channels for various aspects of the course. There is a helpdesk channel called the WormHole where students can put a help request into a queue and get real-time support from teaching assistants (TAs) nearly 50 hours a week.

Support sessions are started on the fly with Zoom integration and digital whiteboards enable collaboration. Undergraduate Learning Assistants (LAs) also host directed study sessions twice a week. There are specific channels for study groups, lab groups, and even one to share funny memes.

One roadblock we anticipated was the value of a critical mass of students engaging online. In our first year, the number of Ecampus students was capped at 45. There were some rich online discussions but it failed to become the self-sustained online community we had hoped for. To address this we added the 500-plus on-campus students to the same online Slack workspace. This exploration of critical mass happened about a month before the pandemic hit and we saw an instant increase in activity.

eSchool Media Contributors