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Education

Kuva

In the year 2011, the teaching reforms have been continued at all levels of teaching. The results are now seen at the introductory level teaching, where new ways to teach and the new structure will be finalized in 2012. In intermediate teaching, the structure and contents have also changed, corresponding now better to the requirements of advanced level teaching and learning. The efforts in developing the physics teaching and learning at all levels have definitely produced the desired results and this is now seen also in student feedback. Nevertheless, there is still an acute need to develop further learning in small groups, laboratory studies and need to consolidate the structure of studies from the first to the final years.

The Department has been successful in actively engaging the top level researchers in teaching, which ensures that the best expertise and the most up-to-date insights in physics are available to students. The need of professionalism in teaching is also recognized, and many of the teachers have attended courses of university pedagogy in order to improve their teaching skills.

Management of Educational Activity

The Department’s General Division provides supporting and educational services. Leading and developing the educational activity is managed by the Head of the Department, the Departmental Board and the working group for the development of education. The working group is formed by professors responsible for the disciplines, student member and a chairman. In each discipline there is a working and planning group steered by the responsible professor. This new structure has enabled a very effective teaching development, and it ensures that the planning and development of education is extended beyond the borders of research areas and disciplines, which then support each other. A major undertaking for the working group for development of education in 2010 was to define a roadmap for the development of teaching and learning, and it has been the basis for realizations and developments in teaching in 2011. Many of the plans done already in 2010 for the improvement of teaching: small groups, study skills, and a learning plan spanning the whole study time, carry over to years 2012-2013.

The aims of the education at the Department and the aims of learning are defined in the syllabus. The aims and contents of education are prepared under the leadership of professors responsible for each discipline in the working group for development of education. The education planning work and the development of the education are guided by long-term strategic planning (over more than three years). It leans strongly on the research at the divisions of the Department, on the developmental views of research and on the long-term requirements of teaching. Targeted projects of developing the teaching also function as a tool for developing the pedagogical expertise of the teaching personnel.

Education and Teaching

At the Department of Physics, education is given in Physics, Theoretical physics, Astronomy, Geophysics, and Meteorology. The basic education in Physics is also given in Swedish. In addition, the education of physics teachers is also one of the main tasks of the Department. This includes both education for the Master’s degree and further education programmes for physics teachers and general teachers specializing in physics. The educational programme of the Department covers a broad variety of areas of physics, not surpassed by any other physics department in Finnish universities.

Physics

In Physics, the study programme is structured now so that the Bachelor level education gives a basic knowledge of all the currently relevant concepts in physics, and provides students with the necessary mathematical, computational and experimental tools. At the Master level, the student specializes in a certain physics subfield, and obtains deeper knowledge in this field. There are seven specialization lines in Physics: aerosol and environmental physics, space physics, bio- and medical physics, electronics and industrial applications, particle and nuclear physics, computational physics, and material and nanophysics. The current degree requirements are valid for 2010-2012. Therefore, during 2011 there has been an opportunity to develop the quality of teaching, as planned in the teaching roadmap of the Department of Physics. The central development items identified in the roadmap are learning in small groups, study skills, and a structured learning plan spanning the whole study time. Learning in small groups has largely been implemented at the basic level courses. The role of the exercise groups has thus changed somewhat: while the main lectures concentrate on the most central and most important material, in the exercise groups the material is deepened through examples and exercises supervised by assistant teachers. This requires a good coordination among the teaching crew, and pedagogical competence.  New learning environments have been “prototyped” by changing a regular lecture room to a group learning room, equipped with a smart board and having group-wise seating.  Improvement of students’ study skills has been facilitated through special courses and tutored “exercise workshops”. Work towards a structured learning plan has been started in view of the next period of degree requirements for 2012-2014.

Theoretical Physics

In Theoretical physics the teaching programme was thoroughly reviewed during 2011.  The Bachelor programme concentrates on giving the students a thorough overview of theoretical physics and a strong toolbox of calculational methods, enabling the student to tackle problems in any subfield of physics. On the Master level the student can select from among the following specialization fields: cosmology, particle physics, space physics, and computational and materials science.  Within each of these subfields one can select courses at different levels of specialization, and also use a tailor-made selection of courses if desired. Special attention has been paid to the synchronization of the content of the theoretical physics courses with the courses offered in the regular physics teaching programme.

Astronomy

In Astronomy the working group for development of astronomy teaching (TTOK, in Finnish, tähtitieteen opetuksen kehittämistyöryhmä) has had the following members in 2011: Prof. Karri Muinonen (chair), Doc. Mika Juvela (secretary), Assist. Prof. Peter Johansson, Dr. Thomas Hackman, Ms. Hannakaisa Lindqvist, and Mr. Jussi Aaltonen. In 2011, TTOK together with the astronomy teaching staff and students has succeeded in bringing Astronomy to the forefront of the physical sciences at the Department of Physics. TTOK has created a quantitative description of the contents of the astronomy courses in terms of how much theoretical, observational, and methodological aspects are included in the courses, with phenomenological aspects added as a constructive contribution from meteorology. The description of the courses allows for the characterization of each student's study plan and studies accumulated in terms of the afore described basic aspects, providing a study curriculum for individual students. At the end of 2011, the number of students attending Astronomy courses is growing, confirming the positive trend observed at the end of 2010.  The Astronomy teaching plan follows, from the basic studies to the advanced and postgraduate studies, a two-year lecturing plan where all the courses are regularly lectured, with the basic courses being lectured every year.

Geophysics

In Geophysics, the curriculum includes three specific specialization directions in graduate studies: geophysics of the hydrosphere, solid earth geophysics and planetary geophysics. Hydrosphere has had the largest proportion of produced academic degrees. The teaching methods were further developed by enhancing the profile of course assistants and by extending "small group" teaching. Teaching in small groups is suitable to the geophysics teaching curriculum and students have responded well to it. Field courses in geophysics have also been organized, and are mainly given to "small groups" of students. Accommodation during these field courses has been arranged at the University's field stations. This gives a great opportunity for students to interact with the teachers and researchers. In March 2011 an international snow and ice geophysics school was held at the Lammi research station as a part of a Nordic network on aquatic remote sensing, and in April–May 2011 an advanced study course on spatial statistics was held. The amount of students choosing geophysics as their major subject has increased moderately during the past 10 years. This trend seems to continue as we create awareness at high schools by promoting university studies in geophysics. Environmental studies are generally popular among the younger generation, and geophysics offers interesting career opportunities in research as well as in private sector companies. We are now constructing an "introduction to geophysics" course for high school teachers to promote geophysics. Teaching material will be provided to teachers to be used in high school teaching.

Meteorology

In Meteorology, the Department of Physics gives basic and advanced teaching and offers the only degree programme in Meteorology in Finland. Selected courses in physics and geophysics can also be included in the subject studies of meteorology, and vice versa, and one of the two lines of specialization in MSc studies of meteorology is arranged in close co-operation with the Aerosol and Environmental Physics specialization line. Meteorology also forms an important part in the syllabus of the International Master’s Degree Programme in Atmosphere-Biosphere Studies (ABS). The multidisciplinary ABS programme offers versatile studies in atmospheric sciences, covering physical phenomena, atmospheric chemistry, meteorology, physical geography, and ecology. Meteorology also offers courses to the international graduate school CBACCI and a national graduate school with the same themes as ABS. In 2011, more emphasis has been put to joint discussions and feedback between students and all teachers on future developments and planning of meteorology teaching. Education on fluid mechanics was reorganized on the Department level. For the first time in its history, the Laboratory Course in Numerical Meteorology was international in 2011. In addition to over 20 local students, this popular course arranged in co-operation with the Finnish Meteorological Institute had 11 remote participants from Russia, China and Ireland. 2011 had again several field courses, one of which was the international course on greenhouse gases and their measurements. It was held at the Hyytiälä Forestry Field Station, and visiting teachers included several leading experts from various countries.   

Physics teacher education

The Physics Teacher education programme of pre-service teachers for lower and upper secondary schools is an important part of Department’s teaching responsibilities. For teacher education, special courses are given in the Master’s degree studies. In recent years, the number of the physics students taking physics teacher’s studies and a teacher’s licence has settled to about 10-15 students per year, but the number of students taking the teachers’ studies as minor studies is steadily increasing and is 35-40. Clearly, this trend needs to be taken into account in future planning of the structure of the studies.  In addition, in teacher education the first steps have been taken to take better advantage of the multidisciplinary character of the current physical science – including e.g. environmental physics, biophysics, geophysics, space physics and astronomy and physical meteorology. All these branches of physics have much potential to enrich the current teacher education

Teaching of physics in Swedish

The teaching of physics in Swedish serves the Swedish-speaking minority of the country, in accordance with the bilingual status of the University of Helsinki. It helps attract students from Swedish-speaking schools from the whole country to the department, and makes their transition to also take courses in Finnish and English easier. The number of students is fairly small, with around 10 new major and 10 minor students coming in each year. This allows for tailoring the teaching programme annually to the needs of the students. In a joint forum between the students and teachers, the “Studiekollegiet”, the higher-level courses to be taught and their timing the following year are selected to match the student's needs as well as possible, taking into account the teaching resources. The same forum is also used for evaluation of the teaching. All of the Swedish-speaking teachers are also involved in outreach activities, such as arranging teachers' continued education in Swedish, handling the matriculation exams in physics, and information of physics studies to high schools. In 2011 the Swedish-speaking discipline retained a satisfactory teaching  level by involving, in addition to the regular two teachers, postdoctoral scientists in the Swedish teaching. The discipline also started developing the basic physics teaching methods along similar lines as in the Finnish teaching.

Evaluation of Teaching

Student feedback of teaching, and in particular of the lecture courses, is now a regular and important part of the development and improvement of teaching. The advantage of the current system of feedback is its transparent and effective use, so that the changes and modifications made on teaching are also visible to the students and motivate students to give continuous feedback and suggestions to improve teaching. The involvement of students and student organizations in the development of teaching at all levels has proven to be an extremely valuable component of the Department’s development of teaching.