Did OER teach millions of people the wrong physics?

Probably too provocative a title. But it’s a question worth asking, because it’s a question to which we don’t have an answer.

Professor Walter Lewin’s classes (above) have been viewed by millions of people on cable TV and downloaded by millions via OCW. In them, Walter demonstrates the best of breed in demonstration-based physics. If you don’t believe me that it’s best of breed, just watch the video above. He’s really top of craft in this style of physics presentation.

But does this style of physics presentation actually work? Eric Mazur claims it doesn’t, and in fact claims that such demos may perform worse than straight lecture in terms of helping to produce learning gains. Such demonstrations may actively work against student understanding. 

I’m sure there will be people that complain that Mazur’s research is too simple, or not relevant, etc. Sure. But this problem indicates my frustration with the “We just make this stuff, and what happens, happens” school of OER. Mazur brings little data, but the OER sponsors of such projects bring none. Where is the accountability in these projects? My thought is that Physics OCW/OER should be judged by how well it helps students learn physics. Is that odd?

Maybe students watching Walter’s lectures do considerably better than those just reading a textbook and working problems. Maybe they do significantly worse. Whatever the case, given the fact we are ten years into this thing it seems like something we should have bothered to find out.

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