Title of the Course – Electricity & Magnetism          

Instructor –  Jason Hafner

Department – Physics & Astronomy

Course Number - PHYS 102

Intended Student Audience- Undergraduate science and engineering majors

Course Description: This course serves as an introduction to electricity and magnetism. Students will learn about how matter becomes charged, and about the physical interactions between charges as described by Maxwell’s Equations. Applications to basic circuit elements in both DC and AC circuits will also be addressed.


How can we create a class climate in which students feel comfortable to ask questions?

Hafner's PHYS 102 lecture course enrolls between 100-200 students each semester. The format of the class is fast-paced as students are introduced to the basic concepts of electricity and magnetism through lecture and demonstrations. This introductory physics course draws in a wide range of students with different levels of preparation and experience in physics. Most are freshman and this is among their first college courses. Hafner believes that these factors, along with the sheer number of students, creates a climate in which students are intimidated, nervous, and afraid to ask questions.



To address this challenge Hafner first tried using audience response systems during lecture, a strategy many of his colleagues use. However, he found that these tools disrupted the flow and rhythm of his short 50-minute lectures.  Eventually he discovered that simply writing his cell phone number on the board and letting students text him questions during class was the most efficient and effective way to encourage students to ask question.  With this strategy he found several benefits:

  1. It uses a technology that all students have readily available with them in class.
  2. It is (effectively) anonymous, encouraging questions that students would likely not ask in front of their peers.
  3. It provides occasional breaks to the monotony of the lecture.
  4. It makes the course feel more personal and engaging for students.

Dr. Hafner’s method of texting questions helps ease students’ fear of asking questions. A student does not feel intimidated to ask a question because the professor has no way of knowing which number corresponds to which student. Additionally, a student does not feel intimidated to ask a question with respect to the other students because the other students do not know who asked the question. In fact, there is no way of knowing whether each question is asked by a different student or all questions are asked by the same student, thus encouraging students who feel that they ask a lot of questions to continue doing so, and encouraging students who rarely ask a question to also do so. As a result, there are more questions being asked in class.
— PHYS 102 student


For those questions that go unanswered during lecture (due to time constraints), Hafner sends the student a text message after class with an answer to the question. The problem with this is that only the one student gets the benefit of hearing the question and its answer. In the coming year, he will post the questions and answers that were not addressed during lecture to the class webpage to enable all students to see them.


Professor Hafner earned his Ph.D. from Rice University in 1998 under Richard Smalley for work on carbon nanotubes, and pursued postdoctoral studies at Harvard University with Charles Lieber. He returned to Rice in 2001 to join the faculty where his lab studies nanophotonics and interfacial biology. Hafner was named a Beckman Young Investigtor in 2002, and won the Norman Hackerman Award for Chemical Research from the Welch Foundation in 2011. He is currently a Professor of Physics and Astronomy and of Chemistry. Hafner is a Member of Scientia at Rice and has served as an Associate Editor for ACS Nano since 2010. He has taught freshman and sophomore physics for the past eight years, and is a member of Rice's Center for Teaching Excellence. He is on a quest to find a lecture demonstration that will get him fired.

To find out more about Professor Hafner's popular EdX class for AP Physics look here.

Posted on August 2, 2016 and filed under Natural Sciences.