Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2013

Faculty Award winner

Elena Flitsiyan

 College of Sciences

 Physics

Teaching undergraduate physics is the most satisfying aspect of my responsibilities as a faculty member at UCF. I am of the firm opinion that modern society requires a better understanding of the mechanisms governing our universe, at all scales, for us to fully develop ourselves in a way respectful to our environment and natural resources. As scientists and educators at a public university, we are in a key position for conveying this understanding and these convictions to our future leaders.

In my teaching and advising activities I employ a student-instructor interaction strategy. Science cannot be effectively taught via traditional education strategies in which, for example, an instructor gives a lecture to a passive audience It is well known that students tend to "zone out" after about 10 minutes of lecture. Learning science needs to be a joint venture in which both student and instructor open the doors to knowledge in a cooperative way. The implementation of this strategy in the general physics courses I teach at UCF exploits up-to-date technology to make the lectures and instructional labs/problem-solving sessions highly interactive. To keep the student's attention active, each lecture contains 2 or 3 "live" demonstrations—conducted by a graduate student with volunteers from the class when feasible. Demonstrations are coupled with problem-solving to make the concept more concrete. In the labs problem-solving is intermingled with hands-on activities. The theme in the labs is coordinated with that of the lectures and governed by a set of twelve discovery-type experiments (one for each week).

However, interaction in the formal classroom is not enough for students who wish to go beyond the standards. For several semesters I have offered my students the opportunity to earn extra credit by completing a project related to one or more of the course topics. The project in my Physics I course—"Physics of the Car Accident: Building a Safer Campus by Solving Physics Problems"—was especially successful.

Projects in my Physics III class relate to more advanced topics in modern physics. Through engagement in these activities, students can more fully appreciate not only the social relevance of modern science but some of the scientific techniques that they will apply in their future careers.