Join us to discuss teaching programming to Physics students on Monday 13th June at 2pm BST

CC BY-SA image of Bohr model of the atom by Jabberwock on Wikimedia Commons 

print(’Hello World!’) is all very well but it doesn’t help physics students solve the Schrödinger equation. Join us for our next journal club meeting on Monday 13th June at 2pm BST where we’ll be discussing a paper by Lloyd Cawthorne on teaching programming to undergraduate Physics students. From the abstract:

Computer programming is a key component of any physical science or engineering degree and is a skill sought by employers. Coding can be very appealing to these students as it is logical and another setting where they can solve problems. However, many students can often be reluctant to engage with the material as it might not interest them or they might not see how it applies to their wider study. Here, I present lessons I have learned and recommendations to increase participation in programming courses for students majoring in the physical sciences or engineering. The discussion and examples are taken from my second-year core undergraduate physics module, Introduction to Programming for Physicists, taught at The University of Manchester, UK. Teaching this course, I have developed successful solutions that can be applied to undergraduate STEM courses.

All welcome. As usual we’ll be meeting on zoom, details are in the slack channel


  1. Lloyd Cawthorne (2021) Invited viewpoint: teaching programming to students in physical sciences and engineering, Journal of Materials Science 56, pages 16183–16194 DOI:10.1007/s10853-021-06368-1

Join us to discuss the feeling of learning ❤️ (vs. actual learning) on Monday 4th April at 2pm BST

Learning can be an emotional process and we often don’t realise when we are actually learning. When you’re listening to an expert explain something well, it’s easy to mistake the speaker’s smooth delivery for your own understanding. You might feel like you’re learning, but actual learning is often hard work and feels uncomfortable. Join us to discuss actual learning vs. feeling of learning via a paper by Louis Deslauriers, Logan S. McCarty, Kelly Miller, Kristina Callaghan, and Greg Kestin at Harvard University here is the abstract:

We compared students’ self-reported perception of learning with their actual learning under controlled conditions in large-enrollment introductory college physics courses taught using 1) active instruction (following best practices in the discipline) and 2) passive instruction (lectures by experienced and highly rated instructors). Both groups received identical class content and handouts, students were randomly assigned, and the instructor made no effort to persuade students of the benefit of either method. Students in active classrooms learned more (as would be expected based on prior research), but their perception of learning, while positive, was lower than that of their peers in passive environments. This suggests that attempts to evaluate instruction based on students’ perceptions of learning could inadvertently promote inferior (passive) pedagogical methods. For instance, a superstar lecturer could create such a positive feeling of learning that students would choose those lectures over active learning. Most importantly, these results suggest that when students experience the increased cognitive effort associated with active learning, they initially take that effort to signify poorer learning. That disconnect may have a detrimental effect on students’ motivation, engagement, and ability to self-regulate their own learning. Although students can, on their own, discover the increased value of being actively engaged during a semester-long course, their learning may be impaired during the initial part of the course. We discuss strategies that instructors can use, early in the semester, to improve students’ response to being actively engaged in the classroom.

From [1] and [2]

Thanks to Uli Sattler and Andrea Schalk for highlighting the paper. All welcome. As usual we’ll be meeting on zoom, details are in the slack channel


  1. Logan S. McCarty; Kelly Miller; Kristina Callaghan; Greg Kestin (2019) “Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America: 201821936. DOI:10.1073/PNAS.1821936116 PMC: 6765278 PMID: 31484770
  2. Jill Barshay (2022) College students often don’t know when they’re learning: Harvard experiment reveals the psychological grip of lectures, The Hechinger Report

Join us to discuss when study turns digital on Monday 2nd August at 2pm BST

Public domain image of Coronavirus by Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins at on Wikimedia commons

The pandemic has accelerated changes to the way we teach and learn. Join us to discuss the Covid-19 shutdown: when studying turns digital, students want more structure: a paper by Vegard Gjerde, Robert Gray, Bodil Holst and Stein Dankert Kolstø on the effects of the pandemic on Physics Education at a Norwegian University. [1]

In March 2020, universities in Norway and many other countries shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The students lost access to classrooms, libraries, study halls, and laboratories. Studying turned digital. Because it is unclear when this pandemic will cease to affect students and because we cannot know whether or when a new pandemic occurs, we need to find ways to improve digital study-life for students. An important step in this direction is to understand the students’ experiences and perspectives regarding how the digitalization affected their study-life both in structured learning arenas and their self-study. Therefore, we interviewed 12 students in an introductory mechanics course at a Norwegian university in June of 2020. Through a thematic analysis, we identified four broad categories in the students’ different experiences and reflections, namely that digitalization: (a) provides benefits, e.g. the flexibility inherent in online video lectures; (b) incurs learning costs, e.g. students reducing their study effort; (c) incurs social costs, e.g. missing being around other students; and (d) increases the need for structure, e.g. wanting to be arranged in digital groups to solve mandatory tasks. We also found that the 2019 students on average scored significantly better on the final exam than the 2020 students, d = 0.31, but we discuss why this result should be interpreted with caution. We provide suggestions for how to adapt courses to make students’ digital studying more socially stimulating and effective. Furthermore, this study is a contribution to the historical documentation of the Covid-19 pandemic.

All welcome, as usual, we’ll be meeting on Zoom see for details. Thanks to Sarah Clinch for suggesting the paper.


  1. Gjerde, Vegard; Gray, Robert; Holst, Bodil; Kolstø, Stein Dankert (2021). “The Covid-19 shutdown: when studying turns digital, students want more structure”. Physics Education56 (5): 055004. doi:10.1088/1361-6552/ac031e