The completion of the workshop tutorial project

Richard Newbury and Kate Wilson and the workshop tutorial manuals.

The School of Physics at the University of New South Wales has been part of a successful collaborative CUTSD funded project to develop Workshop Tutorials for first year physics students. The collaboration included the University of Sydney, where the tutorials originated, University of Western Sydney, the Australian Catholic University and University of Technology Sydney. The project members at UNSW are Dr Kate Wilson and A/Prof. Richard Newbury.

The project was completed in 2002 with the production of a 3 volume set comprising two volumes of workshop tutorials and an activity resource manual. The books contain a total of over 150 tutorials suitable for first year physics courses. An accompanying CD containing all the material as both Word and pdf files is included so that lecturers can easily browse through the books, then cut and paste questions and solutions to customize their own tutorials to suit their own courses.

The advantage of the workshop tutorials over traditional tutorials is that they actively engage the students. In a traditional tutorial many students do little more than sit and copy what the tutor writes on the board. This a very passive activity, and students learn very little from these tutorials — to learn to solve problems, they must solve problems themselves. Teaching something is not the same as the students learning it.

In the workshop tutorials the students work in small cooperative groups to solve problems. They discuss the problem, argue with each other, and eventually come to a consensus. By explaining their own understanding of the problem and the relevant physics they clarify it for themselves. This is of great value to the weaker students in the group, who get an explanation from a peer in language that they can understand. It is of even greater value to the student doing the explaining – the best way to learn something is to teach it. This encourages deep learning, with the students being forced to grapple with concepts, rather than rote learning a set of examples which they can repeat on the exam.

The Workshop Tutorial books are published by Uniserve Science, and as a CUTSD funded project, they are freely available to all Australian Universities, with distribution taking place early in 2003. Workshop tutorials will be used with students enrolled in PHYS1111 (Fundamentals of Physics), PHYS1279 (Civil Engineering) and PHYS1250 (Industrial Design) in 2003 at UNSW.

Kate Wilson


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