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So did it work?

– Vinay

On July 29, 2013, we arranged a series of video lectures at the FMKMC College of Madikeri. These were publicly available lectures on a variety of topics ranging from Quantum Field Theory to General Relativity to Electricity and Magnetism.

In order to measure how useful the lectures were to the students, we conducted a survey before and after the programme. We handed out a questionnaire with a series of 14 simple questions to all the students in the audience, collected the answers, showed the lectures, and then gave them the same questionnaire again and asked them to email the answers.

The questions were designed to measure, first, how familiar the students were with the material that had been selected, and whether the programme helped to broaden their horizons. Second, we wanted to check whether their understanding was improved due to what they saw and heard during the programme. We also had a control group of questions which dealt with topics that were not covered during the programme. We did not have a control group to whom the the questionnaire was distributed but who did not participate in the programme.

Based on the responses to the questionnaire before and after the programme, it is fair to say that it was a spectacular success. Below are listed the detailed results for each of the questions that were asked. An explanation and discussion of the results follow after the summary.

Survey Summary
  Pre-programme Post-programme
Questions all (42) post (12) (12)
1. What is a qubit? 0.023 0.08 0.92
2. What is the Uncertainty Principle? 0.929 0.92 1.00
3. When is Mathematics necessary to understand Physics? 0.905 0.92 1.00
4. What is a Lagrangian? 0.119 0.17 0.83
5. What is a Conservation Law? 0.929 1.00 1.00
6. What is Noether’s Theorem? 0.048 0.08 0.92
7. What is a Tensor? 0.405 0.75 1.00
8. What are the differences between covariant and contravariant tensors? 0.310 0.58 0.75
9. What is the Einstein Summation Convention? 0.119 0.08 0.50
10. What is a Space-Time Metric? 0.024 0.08 0.83
11. What is the metric of Euclidean space? 0.095 0.08 0.58
12. Can you suggest a simple experiment to demonstrate electric charge? 0.690 0.58 0.83
13. What is Entropy? 0.786 0.75 0.92
14. How is entropy related to known information about a system? 0.214 0.25 0.42


The answers were generally not graded for correctness, but simply for whether the respondents had answered the question (1) or had indicated that they did not know (0). The numbers in the columns indicate the fraction of the total respondents that wrote an answer. Of the 42 students who attended the lecture programme, 12 responded to the post-programme questionnaire within 2 weeks, for a return rate of 28%. We show the measured responses of all the attendees in the first column of numbers, as well as for the subset of those that eventually completed the post-programme questionnaire in the second column. The last column contains the summary of the post-programme responses.

We considered the quality of the answers only for questions 3 and 12. In the first case, it was expected to measure the comprehension of Richard Feynman’s lecture on Mathematics and Physics, but because we could not carry out this part of the programme due to technical difficulties, we dropped it from consideration later. Of the responses to Question 12, we checked to see whether the answers changed from what could be expected from a B.Sc./M.Sc.-level Physics curriculum to something that was more directly rooted in experience. This was the case for 75% of the respondents.

The students that responded after the programme could be considered more self-motivated to learn Physics, and could be expected to know more beforehand. This is true to some extent — their response rates are higher for all questions compared to their peers (with a couple of exceptions) in the pre-programme sample. Furthermore, the average number of questions answered was 5.6 for the full sample, and 6.3 for the “motivated” subset. But note that even accounting for this difference, the post-programme response rate is incredibly high across the board, and the average number of questions answered almost doubled, to 12.2 .

The last two questions, #13 and #14, were control questions since no lectures were shown on these subjects. We added #3 to the mix afterwards (for the reason described above). There is no significant difference in the response rates of the full sample and the motivated subset for the pre-programme response. But even for these questions the response rate improves post-programme, suggesting that the primary goal of the lecture programme, to encourage the students to go forth and learn on their own, was indeed met.