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Andrew Gavrin, Physics, Faculty

Physics chair promotes dialogue to yield better teaching, improved learning

Andrew Gavrin, Ph.D. | Associate Professor and Chair | Department of Physics The undergraduate students taking physics in the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis are considering careers ranging from science and engineering to medicine, nursing, and law.

Physics Department Chair and Associate Professor Andrew Gavrin, Ph.D. wants to ensure their journey through the physical sciences is fruitful, providing them not only with knowledge of important concepts and theories but also, and as importantly, with reasoned ways of approaching problems that will serve them well in whatever they pursue.

Gavrin came to the School of Science in 1995 after majoring in physics at MIT, earning his doctorate at Johns Hopkins, and spending three years as a research associate at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.

In the mid- 90’s, when the Internet was in its infancy and few academic institutions had websites, Gavrin built one for each School of Science class he taught. He and department colleague Gregor Novak, Ph.D. developed Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT), using these websites to promote dialogue among students and faculty.

JiTT is a student-focused, web-enhanced teaching and learning strategy, which has expanded from a few physics classes at IUPUI to hundreds of courses in many fields on college campuses across the country. JiTT helps teachers present material at a level customized to the educational backgrounds, interests, perspectives, and capabilities of the actual students in their classroom.

The idea behind JiTT is deceptively simple – ask students to answer a few questions about each reading assignment before the material is discussed in class. Giving students and faculty this opportunity to get “on the same page” can mean the difference between a successful college experience and a discouraging one—and, ultimately, the difference between graduating and dropping out.

“Through JiTT we are leveraging homework time to find out what our students need from us. As with just-in-time delivery in the manufacturing world, which lets the parts supplier know what the assembly line needs and allows for adjustments for that need, with JiTT we get information from students about what they need and can adjust our teaching,” observes Gavrin.

Over the past fifteen years, the focus of Gavrin’s research has shifted from the scientific to the educational – from investigating fundamental physics and its applications, such as magnetic materials and microscopy, to studying ways in which students learn physics and how current and emerging technologies can be used to enhance that learning. It’s a commitment providing lifelong benefit to his students, other IUPUI students, and students across the country.