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Teaching physics: Videos instead of midterms

Video problem solutions

By Peter Selkin, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, UW Tacoma.

For the past two quarters, I’ve used an approach based on an idea adapted from Andy Rundquist, a physics professor at Hamline University in Minnesota. Instead of a midterm and a final (and in addition to weekly content quizzes), students submit short videos walking the viewer through solutions to physics problems of their choice. Overall, I have been impressed by the solutions students — including those who are struggling in other aspects of the course — submit. Even if the students are getting help from other sources, I see their ability to explain their work on a video as a demonstration of their knowledge.

This approach works best in certain contexts. Most of my teaching is in the introductory physics sequence at UW Tacoma where classes range between 20-40 students. Video demonstrations may not work well for larger classes. The problems require substantial scaffolding for both technical (e.g. posting videos) and pedagogical (e.g. choosing problems) reasons, but that scaffolding is scalable.

Grading is the most time-consuming part of this approach. For that reason, I limit video length to five minutes and cap the number of videos at 10 per student. I have students submit the videos in two sets (five at midterm and the rest at finals), and I watch the videos at 1.5x speed as I grade them. I use a holistic rubric to grade solutions, which also speeds the process. Although grading is time-consuming, it has been rewarding to hear students’ voices on their videos.

For additional information about video problem solutions and other teaching tools Peter Selkin uses, visit his Selkin Lab blog.

Peter Selkin is an associate professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at UW Tacoma. As a geophysicist who studies the magnetic properties of earth materials, his scholarship and teaching are at the boundary between geophysics and mineralogy.

Math in the time of coronavirus

Reflections on teaching during the pandemic

By Jennifer Quinn, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at UW Tacoma 

The COVID-19 viral disruption affects us all, particularly our most vulnerable citizens. It’s vital to find ways to connect our students and humanize this unprecedented and isolating experience.

These days I’m trying to worry less about the integrity of online examinations and the quality of online content — and think more about the people. I start by assuming students’ best intentions.

I’m also thinking about learning goals: Do we want to enable students to be critical thinkers? Problem solvers? To have flexible minds and be able to adapt? They will get all that through the experience we provide and more.

Will it really matter if my Calculus I class doesn’t get to L’Hopital’s rule, or the Calculus II class doesn’t get to partial fraction decomposition? I doubt it. For those that need it, there will be time later. For now, let’s congratulate ourselves and our students on getting through, and just breathe.

Visit Math in the Time of Corona to read more of Jennifer Quinn’s reflections on teaching during the pandemic.

​​Jennifer Quinn is a professor of mathematics in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at UW Tacoma. She has held many positions of national leadership in mathematics, including executive director for the Association for Women in Mathematics, co-editor of Math Horizons, a publication of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), chair of MAA’s Council on Publications, and currently MAA’s president-elect. As a combinatorial scholar, Quinn thinks that beautiful proofs are as much art as science. Simplicity, elegance, and transparency should be the driving principles, and she strives to bring this same ethic to her teaching, service, and professional work.

Concerned that with everyone going online, your teaching tools may not keep up?

Will Zoom, Panopto and Canvas have the capacity to support your course as you move it online?

The short answer is yes. We have sought and received assurance from our teaching and learning tool vendors that their systems are designed and operated to meet increased and growing usage, even in the face of unprecedented demand. Remember, these vendors have worldwide reach, and they have already been handling increased demand since January.

Learn what vendors are doing to support the global migration online.

Teaching from everywhere

Looking for even more ideas on how to teach and grade remotely? Find out how Rick Mohler, UW associate professor of architecture, is teaching his Research Design Studio students, as they discuss how they have re-imagined six Seattle neighborhoods.

Learn more about UW Zoom video conferencing.

Also, check out what faculty at Stanford are doing. Here is how Indiana University is maximizing remote teaching, as well as University of California Berkeley. Portland State University and Oregon State University have guides, too. And don’t forget to check the UW Teaching Remotely site, which we update regularly.


Fun with virtual backgrounds!

Your Zoom background doesn’t have to feature your office file cabinet covered with stickies. Nor does it need to highlight your washer and dryer, if you’re Zooming from home — although a quick appearance by your cat is a nice way to break up your lecture.

Ryan Calo, UW School of LawBy changing your virtual background in Zoom, you can teach from (virtually) anywhere in the world, like Ryan Calo, the Lane Powell and D. Wayne Gittinger Associate Professor in the School of Law. Watch this Zoom video to find out how to make your own.

What to say and how to say it

Communicating with your students is vitally important these days, especially without in-person classes and final exams. Where to start? Here is how the Law School explained finals to their students:

Dear Students,

Thank you for your patience as we transform our operations to enable remote finals that are both flexible to our students and allow faculty to make final assessments on student learning.

Finals will, for the most part, fall into two categories: papers or timed exams. Access to a computer with internet is required to complete these finals, but you can take exams from any computer. Students without access to a computer or internet can use one of seven designated computers available in the Gallagher Library.

Paper Finals

Papers will be turned into Canvas.

Over the course of the next week, if you are enrolled in a paper final course that requires anonymous submission, you will find a new Canvas course on your Dashboard for paper submission. These courses will all be labeled by class, professor, and “WIN20 Final Submission”. This allows us to securely collect papers and retain anonymity as your faculty will not have access to these Canvas pages. Please make sure your Exam Numbers are in the header of your papers and that they appear on all pages.

The Canvas courses will be available for the duration of finals week, but the turn-in deadlines will be set as directed by faculty. If you submit past the deadline, it will be noted with a “Late Submission”. Please note, Canvas can stall if there is significant simultaneous usage. If everyone tries to submit at the same time, right at the posted deadline, it can slow Canvas and show a late posting. If the time stamp is within five minutes of the posted deadline, it will not be considered late.

Timed Exams

On Monday, March 16, all timed exams will be accessible for you to take at the times and days you choose. Exams will be available for download until 5:00 p.m. on Friday, March 20. Due to the high volume of reschedule requests already in queue, this format allows you all to self-space your exams.

Timed final exams will be hosted in ExamSoft. Unlike previous exam cycles, all exam questions will be embedded into the software. We have enabled the timers so the exams will automatically upload at the end of the faculty-determined exam time. For example, if you begin your assessment at 2 p.m. and the faculty has determined the assessment should only take two hours, the assessment will close and upload at 4 p.m.

Faculty have determined which security settings to enable and those will be posted in your exam instructions.

Exam instructions will be posted to your class Canvas pages by Sunday, March 15. Your Examplify for ExamSoft passwords will be included in these instructions. Please do not use the passwords until you are ready to begin your exams. The timer will begin when you use your passwords, and you will not be able to pause your exam.

A refresher on how to install and access ExamSoft is available on the UW Law website.

Honor Code

As a UW Law Student, you are beholden to the Honor Code. As you begin each exam, we will ask you to re-acknowledge the Honor Code.


  • If you have an emergency and are not able to complete your exam during this period, contact Dean Anna Endter or Academic Services immediately.
  • If you are having day-of technical issues, call Academic Services at 206.542.0453 or email
  • ExamSoft support is also available at 866.429.8889.

Academic Success

Dean Jessica West wants to point out that the ability to manage your own exam times provides an incredible opportunity to exercise control over your study schedule. In the absence of careful planning, however, this lack of structure over the next couple of weeks also presents some significant risks.  It will be important to consider carefully how you will use the time to complete your work and prepare well for your exams.

Academic Success will be holding a Zoom workshop discussing exam preparation, exam scheduling and exam taking from 12:30 to 1:20 p.m. Wednesday, March 11. Dean West is also available to provide insights and resources on all academic issues. Email Dean West for details at


Faculty were asked to confirm if they were planning to adhere to the original grading system. For most courses, grading procedures will remain unchanged. If your instructor has decided to change their approach to grading, they will follow up directly before the end of the quarter (March 10, 2020).

Food Service

The Supreme Cup and the Starbucks truck usually located in front of William Gates Hall will be closed until spring quarter starts on Monday, March 30.

If you have any questions, please contact Academic Services at