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Teaching physics via Zoom

Alan Flurry

When she started her stint as head teaching assistant in the Physics and Astronomy Department in August 2019, Lauren Sgro’s life was pretty well mapped out. The Ph.D. candidate had time to work on her dissertation – concerning dust around red dwarfs – while keeping up with head TA duties, such as teaching the new TAs how to do their once-a-week labs and helping anyone with questions. Then the pandemic hit.

“After COVID-19, the position took on a totally different level of responsibility. It’s been a great learning experience, but it has changed a whole lot about my job,” said Sgro.

Part of her new normal involved figuring out ways to hold labs for introductory physics students who were studying mechanics, electricity, magnetism and optics. The labs are usually very hands-on and require equipment like lasers or special air tracks to create a frictionless surface. Sgro couldn’t very well start a Zoom class by instructing students to gather their household lasers.

But Sgro is a scientist, so she started experimenting. “We went through all of the options of ‘How are we going to make this work?’ When none of the other ways worked,” laughed Sgro, “we settled on making an asynchronous component to a hybrid lab course.” For the current semester, they’ve split lab courses into two groups, each group trading off weeks between online and in-person classes.


Image: Lauren Sgro sets up a lab demo with a laser. (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

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