Emergency Online Delivery of a Freshman Physics Course to Multiple Cohorts

Concurrent Session 1
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Brief Abstract

This presentation discusses how an on-campus physics course was quickly adapted for online teaching in response to the COVID19 pandemic. We redesigned the course for fully online teaching in a matter of a few weeks. We present our approach to the emergency and discuss the lessons learned from our experience.



Dr. Long originally trained in physics at the University Of Michigan (Flint) and in materials science at the AC Spark Plug Division of General Motors Corporation. In 1995 he completed a PhD in physics at Monash University in Melbourne. Since then he has been a lecturer at Deakin University (Australia), teaching physics, materials science, and electronics. He has 25-year's experience in distance and online teaching; and in 2016 was awarded an OLC Effective-Practice Award. In 2020 he was appointed co-editor in chief of the International Journal on Innovations in Online Education. His research interests include materials science and engineering education.

Extended Abstract

The 2020 COVID19 pandemic required universities and schools around the world to radically alter their teaching practices in a very short space of time. Courses and classes went online, and teachers had to scramble to get prepared.

Deakin University in Australia offers a four-year Bachelor of Engineering degree, and for many years, this program has been delivered to both on-campus and online cohorts [1]. Deakin College [2], a member of the Navitas Group [3] of private colleges and an affiliate to Deakin University, teaches the first year of the Bachelor of Engineering to both local students and to international students studying in Australia. Students who complete the one-year Deakin-College Diploma of Engineering progress to second year at Deakin University.

The pandemic hit Australia in late February, just in time for the start of semester one. Campus was closed by the end of March. All of Deakin College’s classes shifted to online in third week of March. Deakin University was required to make the transition in about two weeks. Within the Deakin University School of Engineering, this task was made easier because first-year physics already had an established history of online delivery of theory and practicals, and there was already an online cohort in place [4]. However, the task was still difficult because the on-campus cohorts of both institutions were completely unprepared to be taught online.

This presentation outlines how Deakin University and Deakin College made the rapid but necessary transition. We delivered synchronous classes that under normal circumstances would have been on-campus by means of the web-conferencing platforms Zoom (used by Deakin College) and BlackBoard-Collaborate (used by Deakin University). Laboratory practicals, which had to be rapidly re-designed, were transformed into at-home activities. Deakin College made heavy use of freely available simulations and websites, such as the PhET suite from the University of Colorado [5]. Deakin University combined real at-home, hands-on lab activities (figure 1) with pre-recorded and live webcasts of experiments to deliver the course’s practical requirements. We conducted a large number of online seminars to guide the students through the practical activities.

Many of the international Deakin-College students returned home just before national borders were closed. These students successfully studied from south-Asian countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia and China, all with different time zones. The in-semester assessments for both instutitions were online quizzes and lab reports. Final exams for both will be timed, at-home, and open-book.

We discuss how we kept student groups together, encouraged collaboration, and settled their nerves in the new and uncertain environment. Attendance in the online classes was  similar to that in face-to-face teaching. Student academic results and course satisfaction will also be discussed, as well as the lessons we learned that would be of help to the educator.


At-home Hooke's Law activity

Figure 1: At-home physics practical Hooke's Law.



  1. J.M. Long (2020). Anywhere-anytime engineering education in a complete undergraduate program. International Journal on Innovations in Online Education 4(1), http://onlineinnovationsjournal.com/streams/editor-s-choice-articles/7c549ff75aba3cea.html.
  2. http://www.deakincollege.edu.au.
  3. http://www.navitas.com.
  4. J.M. Long (2016), “Online Learning in an Engineering-Physics Course,” OLC Effective-Practice Award, http://olc.onlinelearningconsortium.org/effective_practices/online-learning-engineering-physics-course.
  5. University of Colorado, PhET Interactive Simulations, https://phet.colorado.edu.