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When personal computers first became available, computer assisted instruction (CAI) was immediately forecast as one of the principal applications of the technology. For nearly twenty years, the Wake Forest University Physics Department has studied new software developed to assist in the learning of introductory physics. We have seen a few applications that we believed could be of some value, but until recently we have been disappointed at how far short of our dreams these applications have fallen.

ActivPhysics is the first application that we have found exciting. This is the first application we have seen that we believe will significantly improve the process of learning introductory physics.

Why is ActivPhysics important? Why does we believe it will help?

Students learn introductory physics in many different ways. Some learn from the textbook alone; some learn more from lectures and demos; some gain their keenest insight from laboratory. This year, an additional learning tool, the software package ActivPhysics (Addison-Wesley Interactive) is being used in G. Holzwarth's section of Physics 113. Each student purchased a copy of the software and a workbook to go with it. Provision was made to have the software available in all University computer labs for those students who lack ThinkPads.

The key advantage of computer-based physics instruction like ActivPhysics is that the student can directly experience the time-dependence of objects in response to various forces. Thus students can observe projectile motion, circular motion, simple harmonic motions and wave motion on the screen. The student can alter various parameters of the simulations, such as initial velocities, and spring constants. In ActivPhysics, students also are provided with a running display of numerical values for position, velocity, acceleration, kinetic energy, potential energy, as well as constantly updated bar graphs to facilitate qualitative understanding. An example from the chapter on simple harmonic motion is shown below:

Most of the students say ActivPhysics is helping them learn introductory physics. Because it is interactive and visual, the software helps students confront misconceptions more directly than does the solution of homework problems alone.

Computer Enhanced Learning in Physics at Wake Forest University

Department of Physics

ActivPhysics Homepage