Reports from the πCETL Teaching Resources & Activities Action Group

Norton, Andrew (2010). Reports from the πCETL Teaching Resources & Activities Action Group. Open University, Milton Keynes, U.K..


This book is a compilation of various reports that are related to piCETL projects in the areas of Teaching Resources and Teaching Activities. It represents the situation in mid-2010, as the piCETL project draws to an end.

The first two reports included here are linked with the OU’s Masters modules in the area of medical physics. As noted later, the Radiotherapy in practice package is a set of e-learning materials which are part of the 60 CATS point course Radiotherapy and its physics which lies within the Frontiers in Medicine strand of the OU Masters in Science award. The report on the use of this material summarises the responses to student questionnaires and looks at how the design approach used may have facilitated and enhanced the students’ learning experience. OpenRad is another e- learning package which has been developed within the OU to be sold externally as a CPD resource.

A major activity within the piCETL has been the development of Interactive Screen Experiments and other material designed to give students experience of virtual worlds. The next six reports included here each relate to this theme. Paper 3 is a summary report on the Interactive Screen Experiments (ISEs) themselves and is a major review of their conception, production, use and evaluation. Many ISEs have already been developed, and several more are at various stages of planning or production; an example is presented here in Paper 4 of one in the astronomy area. ISEs have been trialled in several OU courses and it is envisaged that much greater use of them will be made in the future, for the reasons outlined in the report here.
Papers 5 and 6 continue with the astronomy theme. The first is on the development of a 3D graphics application that has the prospect of being used in many and varied applications in the teaching of physics and astronomy. The particular application discussed here is that of a telescope simulator which allows students to experience the setting up and alignment of an astronomical telescope prior to using the real thing at an observatory. Evaluation of the application reveals the benefits it confers. The next brief paper in this set is a report on an application which grew out of that just described. It is an interactive, 3D map of the night sky referred to as the Celestial e- Sphere and has already had various uses as a teaching tool and as an outreach / demonstration tool.

Paper 7 considers the use of a ‘virtual world’ in the teaching of projectile motion – an archery simulator for use in a course exploring the science in sport. The final paper in this set is a comparative review of 3D immersive screen experiments,contrasting ‘real’ experiments with interactive screen experiments and immersive screen experiments, using a simple spectrometer as an example.
A second major initiative in the piCETL has been the development of remotely operated experiments. The next two papers therefore report on the development of PIRATE – a robotically operated telescope situated in Mallorca and used for group project work in the OU undergraduate teaching programme. Paper 9 summarizes PIRATE itself, whilst paper 10 gives the background to the software development underlying the successful operation of the hardware.

Another important activity of the piCETL within the remit of this report is the development of image banks for use in teaching, and the next three papers in this book all relate to this area. Paper 11, the report on CAPITAL describes how the database to hold the images has been designed and implemented, whilst the paper 12 reports on a particular use for a bank of astronomical images. Paper 13 reports on how these image banks have been used in two OU Level 1 courses on Astronomy and the Weather respectively.

The final two reports in this book are concerned with a project to produce ‘science timelines’ and a Maths Skills eBook. The timelines project summarized in paper 14 focuses on the use of the history of physics as a tool for enriching and enlivening the teaching of physics itself. The timelines provide basic chronological information concerning developments in physics; setting them in the context of other scientific and historical events This maths skills e-book comprises a hyperlinked e-book which is supported by a series of online interactive questions. It is designed to provide mathematical preparation for students embarking on one of the OU’s Science Short Courses, or to be used as revision material before embarking on a larger course such as Exploring Science. The report includes an extensive evaluation of student feedback to using the resource.

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