Professor Selen highlighted the evolution of teaching introductory physics at the University of Illinois over the past 17 years.

Mats earned his BS and master degrees in physics in the early '80s at the University of Guelph and his PhD in particle physics at Princeton University in 1989. After a four year post-doc at Cornell, Mats joined the faculty at the University of Illinois in 1993, where he has been since.

MatsSelen 4After 25 years of studying elementary particles, Mats has shifted his research focus to understanding and improving the way students learn physics. With his Illinois colleagues, he has helped develop the iclicker classroom response system, the smartPhysics learning framework, and most recently IOLab, which features a hand-held affordable gadget for performing physics experiments in the classroom and lab and at home. On Wednesday mornings he brings science to central Illinois viewers as the WCIA WhysGuy.


Some 17 years ago Mats and colleagues began to change significantly the way introductory physics at Illinois was taught. The innovation, which in hindsight seems almost trivial, was to define these courses in terms of their content and associated infrastructure rather than in terms of the faculty assigned to teach them. Having courses rest on a solid departmental foundation rather than on the shoulders of faculty means that faculty have the time and freedom to innovate, making incremental yet significant improvements to these courses over time. 

Shovit suggests an experiment with Mats' gadgetShovit suggests an experiment with Mats' gadgetMats presented this evolution as well as several resulting innovations, including prelectures, just in time teaching, peer instruction, and a new approach to labs. Mats also demonstrated a variety of physics experiments performed with a prototype of his IOLab gadget, which he hopes to make available to students for ~$50, similar to iclickers. 

We met Mats this past summer at an eAcademy at Cal Poly Pomona sponsored by the CSU Chancellor's Office on renovating the introductory physics sequence with smartPhysics. Geoffrey Lovelace will be teaching our Phys 225 in the spring with the smartPhysics curriculum and a set of IOLab prototypes for in-class activities. 

Thank you Mats for an inspirational and fun visit, we look forward to your return!