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Lecture Gone Wrong: Physics, Learning, “The Big Bang Theory” and where HPExpertONE fits in


written by Paul Telles


It’s easy to laugh at Dr. Sheldon Cooper, the brilliant, but socially inept, physicist from “The Big Bang Theory.” In this episode from the U.S. sitcom, Cooper convinces himself he’s a great teacher while his students languish in the depths of boredom. Confronted later with his students’ exasperated and hilarious tweets, Cooper decides he’ll make himself a better teacher by making himself more of a phony: he takes acting lessons to make his lectures more entertaining!


It’s too bad Cooper didn’t consult with the real-life physicists who are finding that their students learn more by doing than by hearing or watching even the best lecturers.


“Students have to be active in developing their knowledge,” Arizona State University physics professor David Hestenes told National Public Radio in January. “They can't passively assimilate it.”


The problem at hand


In the NPR segment, “Physicists Seek to Lose the Lecture as a Teaching Tool,” Hestenes and other physics educators noted that students in traditional lecture classes often learn concepts without knowing how to apply or interpret them. For instance, Hestenes noted, students often can recite the Newtonian Laws of Physics, but cannot predict that objects of different mass will fall at the same rate in a vacuum.

In the two decades since his initial realization, Hestenes and other physicists have tested physics students around the world and learned they often have the same problem: the students know the formulas, but they don’t know what they mean.

“The classes only seem to be really working for about 10 percent of the students," Hestenes told NPR. "And I maintain, I think all the evidence indicates, that these 10 percent are the students that would learn it even without the instructor. They essentially learn it on their own.”


So what’s the answer to this challenge?

Answer: Have the students do more of their own learning.


The article describes how students at Harvard University now learn physics through small-group activities where they solve physics problems collaboratively. The students initially use mobile devices to vote for a correct answer. When only 29 percent choose the right answer, the professor suggests they confer in their groups, and then try to answer again. This time, 69 percent choose the correct answer. Then the professor leads a discussion about the reasoning behind the answer.


"What we found over now close to 20 years of using this approach is that the learning gains at the end of the semester nearly triple," says the Harvard professor, Eric Mazur.


How HP can help


HP ExpertONE and its Competency-Based Learning (CBL) initiative shares many of the goals and methods espoused by the physicists. By focusing on interactive learning, the CBL courseware will enable you to explore how HP technologies and solutions can help your career and business thrive. Through discussions and peer-to-peer interactions, you’ll exchange information and real-world insights with your fellow IT professionals, returning you to the workplace with fresh ideas and insights.


Of course, you’ll still learn all the technical details—the “speeds and feeds” and the processes for configuration, management, and troubleshooting. In fact, all of this information will become more valuable and more relevant because you’ll learn it in the context of your professional and business needs.


And you won’t be bored! Unlike Dr. Cooper’s unfortunate students, you won’t be a captive audience in tiresome lectures. You won’t be tweeting “KMN” for “Kill Me Now.”


To Learn more about HP ExpertOne:


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Thank you,

Karl Kovacs
Global Sales and Partner Enablement
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About the Author


20+ years in IT, including data center architect, pre-sales engineer, certification development and management. Passion for technology, gadgets and the outdoors. Always looking for ways to blend them together in one big adventure.

Dennis Handly

When I took physics decades ago, we had lab classes to make sure we learned the concepts.

I'm not sure how much the instructors monitored the labs and changed what they taught, though.


I think the point here is to point out how Sheldon modified his behaviour and training to adapt to a difficult audience.

I'm not saying that HP ExpertOne training is the same, but our training methodologies have adapted and changed to reflect the way students want to learn. We don't deliver training out of a box and ignore student's reactions.


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