Johann Bayer

Photo: Johann Bayer

COURSE: Introduction to Quantum Physics, PHYB56
DEPARTMENT: Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences, U of T Scarborough
INSTRUCTOR: Johann Bayer

The Course Design Institute hosted by the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation at the University introduces principles of course design to faculty members who are developing a new course or who would like to hone their course design skills and refresh a course they’ve already taught. Over two days’ participants will learn how to design or re-design a course of their choosing to enhance students’ learning experiences. The integrated and structured approach of the Institute encourages participants to consider and include accessible design within their course development.

Johann attended a previous Course Design Institute and shared his experience designing reflective writing assignments in his course.  A faculty profile video based on these writing assignments was developed to be shared in the Course Design Institute.


PBYB56 is a second-year course that introduces students to the basic concepts of Quantum Physics and Quantum Mechanics. It is also the first course students take that is just for physicists and astrophysicists.


Johann previously taught a fourth-year physics course. One of the major assignments for this course is a writing assignment. While teaching this course, he noticed that students did not have much training or experience in writing.  He then taught a first-year course and began including small, reflective writing assignments. While he was preparing/designing his second-year course, Johann intentionally included reflective writing assignments that would help students develop their writing skills and align with the learning outcomes for the course. This approach would not only provide students the opportunity to develop essential writing skills in this course but also throughout the entire program.


  • Improve basic writing skills
  • Help prepare for lecture discussions
  • Establish core concept connections
  • Recognize major program themes
  • Get a sense for their profession


Thee three reflective writing assignments that align with the course learning outcomes were:

  1. Reading Quizzes. These short quizzes were assigned before lecture, and were deployed using the Test tool in the Learning Portal (Blackboard) course.  The goal was to provide students an opportunity to reflect on the assigned readings. Quizzes consisted of four conceptual multiple choice questions and one reflective question.
  2. Concept Map. Students completed these assignments following lecture. The goal of this assignment was to allow students an opportunity to reflect on the lecture discussion. In the Reflective Assignments video, the student concept map example clearly demonstrated that the student understood the concepts. However, some students submitted concept map assignments that were not as detailed.  In these cases, Johann provided written feedback to the students and allowed assignment resubmissions.
  3. Learning Outcome. These reflective writing pieces were completed following the tutorials. The goal of this assignment was for students to reflect on the course concepts that were applied during tutorial. Students submitted a reflective writing assignment where they identified at least two learning outcomes from the course syllabus that were discussed throughout the week.


Student responses to questions in the reading quizzes provided rich lecture discussions because now Johann could target course topics that the students were not understanding based on the pre-lecture reading quizzes.

Course concepts that students were having difficulties with were identified from the reflective writing assignments. These confusing points were then used to construct iClicker questions during the lecture discussion. The lecture became more active through active learning discussions and the students were engaged with the course content.

In the course evaluations, students consistently commented on how the structure of the course helped them improved their study habits.  Students can apply the knowledge and skills from these introductory courses to other courses.