Physics for Computing

One of my main tasks that we decided on before coming to Singapore, was that I would take part of planning and executing a new course called Physics for Computing. This is a course that had been in planning for years, but didn’t become reality until 2018. The idea is that the students in computer science need basic knowledge within physics for the future profession.

Angry Birds
Angry Birds, physics style!

My role was to teach the lectures on classical mechanics. This is a really important area for CS students due to its use in, not only, the traditional applications, such as games and simulations, but also in constructing GUIs. I had a lecture series in the TCT Lecture Theatre at NTU that I called: “An introduction to classical mechanics”. We went through the basics in mechanics and calculated how to make a perfect Angry Birds shot, how to throw things perfectly into the infinity pool of Marina Bay Sands and played a little game I like to call “Which one is most likely to break?”

Which one is more likely to break
Which one is more likely to break?

eLearning week

I was also responsible for constructing and putting together the theme for the eLearning week in the middle of the semester. This year the eLearning was focused around prototyping, which is an important area to introduce early on in education programs for engineers. I visited the Center for IT Services and the Interactive Recording Studio to take my video lectures for eLearning. The lecture series was based on the following lectures:

  1. Product development
  2. Target audience
  3. Usability
  4. How to use prototypes
  5. Different types of prototypes
  6. User tests

The six video lectures ended up to become just above 45 minutes in total. The end product was one thing, but I must say that the road to get there was the real goal! You can read more about eLearning week here, and my experiences about recording lectures here.

Lecturing and tutoring

TCT Lecture Theatre @ NTU

It is different from back home in Sweden to tech large groups in Lecture Theaters. When the groups are between 250-600 students instead of between 10 and 50 students, it is much harder to interact with the students. I believe that I was lucky to get the “small” TCT-LT for my lectures. This is a more round lecture theater that got me closer to the students than some of the other LTs. More about teaching large groups in LTs can be found here.

Every lecture in the Lecture Theaters are automatically recorded and posted on the NTULearn (blackboard) website for the course. This unfortunately results in fewer students on the lectures, which I’m not sure is a negative thing, since the interaction is kind of moderate anyway. I had fairly nice attendance on my lectures, which feels good, and I take it as a sign that the value of coming to the lectures are high. My goal is always to engage and involve my students during lectures. If you want to read more about automatic recording of lectures, you can do that here.

Automatically recorded lecture of classical mechanics on the course Physics for Computing
Tutorial room in The Arc

The recording of lectures also results in fairly high attendance on the Tutorials. Tutorials are discussions about lectures and literature in TRs (Tutorial rooms) with around 20-30 students in each group. The tutorial rooms are just amazing. Properly used these rooms can create real learning experiences for the students. Since 2010 most tutorial rooms have been converted into creative learning spaces. Read more about the learning spaces and my experience on tutorials here. I did however not alphabetical any tutorials on the course Physics for Computing, but only in the course Human Computer Interaction.

Laboratory work

Lab session in Hardware Projects Lab

As a laboratory instructor, I was assigned a couple of groups on the course. All labs were performed in the Hardware Projects Lab on level 1 of the N4 wing in North Spine. The lab is an amazing place with over 60 workstations, half of the stations are used for thesis work and half for undergraduate work. The lab groups were around 25-30 students and the labs were all carried out and examined within a timeframe of two hours. This in contrast to my labs in Sweden that the students can do anytime they want and the report can be handed in whenever they want (ok, it’s not that bad, in the end, most of the time, we decide on deadlines together since the students usually are the one that want the deadlines specified). This is way more structured, which is necessary when having 400 students instead of 30 students (which I’m used to from Sweden).

The course had 4 mandatory labs and most of the students earned the full 5 marks for each lab. The labs were quite straight forward and the idea was to give the students an introduction to how physics and computer science/computer engineering connect as well as just having the students to try out some cool equipment.

The labs were:

  • Lab 1: Using a combination of Leap Motion and Unity to create a simple working interface (show how optics can be used within CS/CE)
  • Lab 2: Using Arduino to build and program a simple NFC reader (show electromagnetic fields)
  • Lab 3: Using Muse headband to study and record EEG and Alpha waves from the brain (show brain-computer interfaces)
  • Lab 4: Using LEDs to determine its behaviour and building simple circuits (show the use of electronics and semiconductors)

Being a lab instructor tightened my relation with the students and I believe that this was a really nice way of actually getting close to the students and their way of studying.

Preparing for next year

Recording in the Interactive Recording Studio at NTU

Since I wanted to deliver some sustainable value of my STINT Teaching Sabbatical here at SCSE, I decided to record the live lectures that I gave in TCT-LT for the students on the course in the Interactive Recording Studio. I turned my introductory lectures into five short videos for the teachers to use on next year’s course – (1) Introduction (4:10 min), (2) Newton’s Laws of Motion (11:09 min), (3) Kinematics (11:25 min), (4) Momentum and Impulse (10:02 min), and (5) Energy (8:06 min). These parts formed the foundation of my lectures on the subject and also were four quite distinct parts that could be recorded, and explained, separately. By recording the lectures, none of the other teachers have to spend time to get into my material and my presentation style.

As always, the recording at IReS was a nice experience recording lectures and you can read more about thoughts here.

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