University of Leicester eBulletin

Major Leap Forward for Physics Students

May 2003
No 121

The University of Leicester is leading a university consortium to develop a new concept of education for Physics and Astronomy undergraduates.

With partner universities Hertfordshire, Reading and Sheffield, Leicester's Department of Physics and Astronomy is introducing problem-based learning into its undergraduate teaching in an initiative known as Project LeAP, directed by Dr Derek Raine.

An example of the kind of problem assignment involved is the 'Desert Island Rescue Problem'. First-year Physics students imagine they are stranded with a limited supply of equipment. They have to work together in groups to build a power source for a rescue beacon.

Dr Sarah Symons, LeAP Project Manager, commented: “We have piloted laboratory teaching of undergraduates in which there is an element of problem solving and experimental design. The problems are more open-ended than in traditional courses. We don't give the students all the information they need to solve the problems, so that they have to ask themselves what they don't know and where they can find it out. The increased involvement with the task enhances both understanding and retention.

“Another feature of LeAP is that students work in groups and this increases their team strengths. Our aim is to produce students with the more rounded skills they will need in future jobs, whether they go into industry or research.”

Project LeAP has been funded for three years by the Higher Education Funding Council, England (HEFCE) under the initiative Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning Phase 4. The outcome of the project will be available to other universities in a report outlining good practice and implementation methods.  

NOTE TO EDITORS:   For further information please contact Dr Sarah Symons, Project Manager for Project LeAP, University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy, telephone 0116 252 2069, facsimile 0116 252 2070, email s.l.symons@le.ac.uk

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