Course Numbers and Titles:
SCEN103 Scientific Concepts behind High Technology

Perhaps 100 initially, up to 200 projected

Instructor and Title:
George H. Watson, Associate Professor

Departmental Affiliation:
Department of Physics and Astronomy

Role in Project:
Faculty Associate

Course Description:
A course based on the physics behind high technology, with no physics or math prerequisites, is being designed with the scientifically-reticent student in mind. This will not be a course to survey all of the concepts of physics! --- Our approach will be to leverage students' interest in everyday devices and high-tech objects into a stimulating context for introduction of some of the concepts of fundamental physics. SCEN103 will focus specifically on (1) materials and their properties and (2) application of physics and technology.

The most suitable devices or high-tech ideas will be identified for use as a framework for problem-based learning. Our approach will be to have the students explore and study the operation of selected devices, uncovering the basic scientific principles behind its operation through hands-on exercises where possible, augmented with "textbook" exposure to physics concepts to support the understanding of each device following their exploration.

The Compact Disk (CD) player is an excellent example of a device that could serve as one case study for this course. The CD resulted from a convergence of electronics and lasers to fill the need for inexpensive, high quality audio recording, and recently usurped a role as mass storage medium of choice for multimedia computer applications. On this topic we envision studying in turn, atomic physics, lasers, optics, semiconductor physics, transistors, and digital electronics, all within the context of learning how the CD player works.

Issues in Problem-Based Learning to be Addressed:

Designing a new, large course around PBL for scientific literacy:

This course is being designed to attract a large group of liberal arts and education majors, particularly those desiring an additional general science course without the traditional laboratory component. In our experience with other PBL physics courses, we have seen that students prefer a choice of course format. We seek to accommodate that preference by offering a variety of courses. Our hope is to reach out to an additional group of students, those that are less inclined to study science (especially in the traditional lecture format), with an approach that they will find beneficial for furthering their scientific literacy.

The experience gained in PBL course design to date at UD will be instrumental in the development of this course; the following model of incorporating PBL has been "down-selected" for a large-class setting. Two 75 minute class meetings of the whole will be used to introduce and discuss the applications and devices that will be explored. In a traditional mode of delivery, such a long period of instruction would certainly be difficult. In PBL mode a lengthy class meeting lends itself to activities for learning by groups, thus each meeting will be broken into manageable time segments for group activities, sandwiched by instructor-led discussion and presentation of material. Additionally, a 50 minute meeting, the so-called discussion session, will accommodate six groups of four each for exploration of more complex exercises.

PBL based on multimedia: The new multimedia capabilities of Sharp Laboratory, including large-screen projection of computer images, will be essential for the implementation of this PBL course. We plan to incorporate many of the new CD-ROM based presentations that explore computers and high technology, using simulation and animation to enhance interest and produce compelling case studies. In addition, we will familiarize the students with the growing resources available on-line worldwide. Numerous high technology companies now have a presence on the Internet, presenting detailed information about the concepts behind their own technological contributions in the telecommunication, photonic, and semiconductor industries.

Dissemination of course materials will also be largely by multimedia. A World Wide Web homepage will provide information and case studies for students and interested teachers alike. For a preview, see "" Dissemination will also be continued using traditional means, such as articles in The American Journal of Physics and The Physics Teacher and presentations at national and regional meetings of the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Submitted June 5, 1995 to NSF as part of "Models for Implementing Problem-Based Learning: Bringing the Real World into Science Classrooms"

Copyright George Watson, Univ. of Delaware, 1996.