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Academic Support & Access Center

Professor Nate Harshman discusses hosting SI in University Physics

Head shot of Professor Nate Harshman

Professor Nate Harshman

Q:  How long and in what ways have you participated in SI?  

Nate Harshman: During summer 2004, the SI coordinator, Sarah Sorkin, contacted me about participating in the SI program. I was teaching PHYS-110 University Physics I in the fall, and this course typically had over 50 students enrolled (mostly per-med students and science majors) with a variety of backgrounds. Physics is a class that intimidates some students, and this is made worse by rampant math-phobia. The previous year, I spent a lot of time working with students during office hours, but those hours became so crowded that it was hard to provide much individualized attention. So I jumped at the chance to participate in SI and I have never looked back. Every year since then, SI has supported PHYS-110 in the fall and PHYS-210 University Physics II in the spring. Many of those semesters I was the teacher, but Phil Johnson and Jessica Uscinski have also used it. We have all been very happy to be able to offer this resource to our students.  

Q:  What does hosting SI in your course involve?

Nate Harshman:  The student SI leader comes to one of the classes (there are typically several lectures offered for the course). I provide them with a textbook, access to the course Blackboard site and the on-line homework system, and each week they review the assignments. Then, for two hours each week, they hold SI sessions in the Anderson Computing Center where students can come and ask questions about the material and get help with problem-solving for their homework. The SI leader has usually been a junior or senior physics major whom I have recommended for the position because I think they will be good at explaining problem-solving. The SI leader needs to be able to break a complicated process into small pieces, and to lead students in the right direction without feeding them the answers. 

Q: How does SI contribute to your students' learning experience?

Nate Harshman: Students really appreciate the SI leader. On a very practical level, the SI leader helps them out when they are stuck on a concept or an assignment and their peers can't help and they can't make it to office hours. The SI leader focuses on problem solving because that is something that is difficult to teach in a large lecture, especially when the learning styles, preparation, and motivations of the students are disparate.  Also, some students prefer to go to the SI leader because they just don't like exposing their difficulties to their professor, no matter how much I encourage them.  

Q: What do you like best about SI?

Nate Harshman:  The SI program allows more students get individualized attention, tailored to their needs and abilities.  

Q: What would you tell faculty new to SI?

Nate Harshman:  The SI program can help your students learn more, achieve better grades, and be happier with your class. SI will make the learning environment feel friendlier to the students and really produce results. And...if your office hours are overwhelmed with students, it can relieve that pressure, too.