Penn State Intercom......April 5, 2001

Streaming video makes class, lectures
a round-the-clock resource for students

By Steve Sampsell
Eberly College of Science

Thanks to a high-tech approach, some faculty members have made one physics class much more than the same-old science. In fact, with the use of streaming video technology, the class known as "Physics 211, General Physics: Mechanics" has become a round-the-clock resource for students.

By combining streaming video and a split-screen presentation, students may watch class lectures on the Web. With the split screen, they see the lecturer on one side of their computer screen and slides from the presentation that accompany the lecture on the other side. Lectures are not presented as they happen, though. Compressing video of the lecture into a streaming video format requires about two days.

Three large lecture sections and more than 30 smaller laboratory/recitation sections of Physics 211 include more 850 students this semester. Only presentations from the three large lecture sections, conducted in 119 Osmond Laboratory, are shown on the Web. Class lecturers include Paul Sokol, professor of physics; Peter Schiffer, associate professor of physics; and John Hopkins, physics instructor. The split-screen computer format was developed by Scott Laudenslager, research technician for the Department of Physics' educational network and information systems.

"We intended the system as an aid and resource that would be there if students had a question or had to miss a class," said Sokol. "We have not noticed a dropoff in attendance for the large sections with students opting to watch it on the Web instead."

In a sense, the course has become a semester-long test for the Department of Physics. If students enjoy the approach, based on feedback at the end of the semester, the practice of making lectures available on the Web might expand to other large physics classes. Although the use of the Web as a home for lectures in Physics 211 only started in the middle of this semester, more than 800 visitors hit the site in the first three weeks of its existence.

"If it turns out to be popular and successful, then it should benefit the students," said Sokol. "We want to provide students with the information in a means that they can use the best. With lectures on the Web, they have a way to double-check their notes or get a second chance to listen to a point that was being made."

The Web site and lectures may be accessed for free at All students registered for the class receive a password that allows them to participate in discussion forums.

Steve Sampsell can be reached at