Education

The department provides BSc, MSc, and PhD level education in physics, theoretical physics, astronomy, meteorology, geophysics as well as educates physics teachers and provides physics teaching in Swedish.

A major effort in 2015 was the planning of the truly three-stage education structure where BSc, MSc, and PhD level programmes are separate entities. So far, there have been well functioning PhD programmes in the Doctoral School of Science, but BSc and MSc level studies have been in a single master programme. The new BSc and MSc programmes will start in autumn 2017, and a major effort was invested in this planning activity. Now it seems that there will be a single BSc programme in Physical sciences with study lines for different subject areas, and several MSc programmes with an intake of about 40 students per year.

Efforts on development of teaching at the Department have led to increased numbers of completed of BSc and MSc theses compared to earlier years. The numbers of completed master’s theses in 2015 vs. 2014 were 62 vs. 42, and for BSc theses the figures were 57 vs. 44. We believe this is at least in part due to efforts put in developing teaching, student supervision, and better target orientation in general in our teaching.

The last quarter of year 2015 was shadowed by the cuts in the University basic funding. Recruitment bans meant that the study office was severely understaffed, and some administrative tasks were distributed to other staff. This is of course an inefficient way to keep daily routines going, and hopefully 2016 will bring some improvements. Teaching budget for 2016 was also cut and therefore study courses were prioritized by the end of 2015 and many courses therefore cancelled for 2016, especially those given by external professor level teachers, i.e., docents.

Teacher students learn to implement and design school physics experiments (photo by Seppo Andersson).

Teaching education for new staff was enhanced so that all necessary teacher information was collected in one web-page that is easily accessible for everyone. This material is now used in the once-a-year teaching education events at the start of the academic year. Lecture course assistants are often the closest contact of students to the education staff. It is thus important that all assistants are up-to-date about their tasks. This is the aim of the new annual education events for course assistants.
Teaching development days of the department are now held twice yearly (May and January). The events have been well attended and have served their purpose very well in presenting evaluation results, collecting teachers’ development ideas, and “airing” sentiments about the current state of teaching affairs. This practice is going to be followed in the coming years, too.
The following teaching related events in 2014 are noted:

Physics teacher education

The Physics Teacher education programme of pre-service teachers for lower and upper secondary schools is an important part of the Department's teaching responsibilities. For teacher education, special courses are given in the Master's degree studies. The number of the physics students taking the physics teachers' study programme and the teacher's licence seems to be settling to below 10 students per year, but the number of students taking the teachers' studies as a minor subject is expected to be around 25–30. Clearly, this trend needs to be taken into account in future planning of the structure of the studies. In addition, in teacher education first steps have been taken to take better advantage of the multidisciplinary character of the current physical sciences – 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 in Swedish

The teaching of physics in Swedish serves the Swedish-speaking population of the country, in accordance with the bilingual status of the University of Helsinki. It helps to attract students to the Department from Swedish-speaking schools from the whole country and makes their transition to also take courses lectured in Finnish or 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 in the following year are selected to match the students' needs as well as possible considering the teaching resources. The same forum is also used for evaluation of the teaching. All Swedish-speaking teachers are also involved in outreach activities, such as arranging continued education of teachers in Swedish, handling the matriculation exams in physics, and information of physics studies to high schools.