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Education

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In the year 2012 the teaching of introductory courses has continued following the new curriculum, and from the beginning of 2013 it is fully operative. From 2013 onwards, the introductory courses in physics are starting two times in an academic year, in autumn and in spring semester. On the introductory level, attention has been paid on modernisation of the contents and on better meeting the requirements of more advanced courses. In 2012, learning in small groups and in laboratory has been developed further.

The Department has been successful in actively engaging the top-level researchers in teaching, which ensures that the best expertise and the most up-to-date insights in physics are available to students. The need of professionalism in teaching is also noted, and many of the teachers have attended courses of university pedagogy in order to improve their teaching skills.

Management of Educational Activity

The Department’s General Division provides supporting and educational services. Leading and developing the educational activity is managed by the Head of the Department, the departmental board and the working group for the development of education. In the academic year 2012, the working group has updated the “road map” for education and development of education, with new plans to consolidate the studies at an advanced level. The effects of these plans will be felt in 2013.

Physics

In Physics, the study programme is structured so that the Bachelor level education gives a basic knowledge of all the currently relevant concepts of physics, and provides students with the necessary mathematical, computational and experimental tools. At the Master level, the student specializes in a certain physics subfield, and obtains deeper knowledge in this field. There are seven specialization lines in Physics: aerosol and environmental physics, space physics, bio- and medical physics, electronics and industrial applications, particle and nuclear physics (including also cosmology), computational physics, and material and nanophysics. During 2012 we have continued the systematic development of the quality of teaching, as planned in the teaching roadmap of the Department of Physics. The physics basic level courses have been revised, and learning in small groups has been implemented in the basic level courses as well as in many of the advanced level courses. The tutored “exercise workshops” have been appreciated by the students. At the Master level, internationalization has been one of the focus areas. Almost all the Master level, specialization lines provide courses either in English as a default or in English on demand, but information about Master level studies in English has not been easily available. This has been improved by creating a new website for international students, see  http://www.opetus.physics.helsinki.fi/english/ , and assigning a dedicated person as a coordinator of Physics teaching in English.

Theoretical Physics

In Theoretical physics the teaching programme was thoroughly reviewed during 2011, and the implementation of the ensuing modifications continued in 2012.  The Bachelor programme concentrates on giving the students a thorough overview of theoretical physics and a strong toolbox of calculational methods, enabling the student to tackle problems in any subfield of physics. A concrete example of modifications was the revision of the course on concepts of Modern Physics; also some improvements of the courses on Mathematical Methods were begun. On the Master level the student can select from among the following specialization fields: cosmology, particle physics, space physics, and computational and materials science.  Within each of these subfields one can select courses at different levels of specialization, and also use a tailor-made selection of courses if desired. Special attention has been paid to the synchronization of the contents of the theoretical physics courses with the courses offered in the regular physics teaching programme.

Astronomy

In Astronomy the working group for development of astronomy teaching had the following members in 2012: Prof. Karri Muinonen (chair), Doc. Mika Juvela (secretary), Prof. Alexis Finoguenov (from Aug. 1 onwards), Assist. Prof. Peter Johansson, Dr. Thomas Hackman, Mr. Antti Rantala, and Mr. Jussi Aaltonen. The Astronomy teaching plan follows, from the basic studies to the advanced and postgraduate studies, a two-year lecturing plan where all the courses are regularly lectured, with the basic courses being lectured every year. In spring 2012, the first two-year lecturing cycle was completed, paving the way to the next two-year cycle beginning in autumn 2012. In terms of credit points, the Astronomy courses were re-sized to conform with those in the other subjects. While the basic and intermediate Astronomy course structure is now seen as being close to the optimum, the course structure at the advanced level, with a large number of courses, is identified as requiring further development. Development of Astronomy courses in coordination with courses in the other physical sciences as well as in mathematics is considered important.

Geophysics

In Geophysics, the curriculum includes three specific specialization directions in graduate studies: geophysics of the hydrosphere, solid earth geophysics and planetary geophysics. Hydrosphere has been the most popular in terms of produced academic degrees. The teaching methods were further developed by enhancing the profile of course assistants and by extending “small group” teaching and field exercises. Teaching in small groups is suitable to the geophysics curriculum, and the students have responded well to it. Field courses in geophysics are mainly given to small groups of students. Accommodation during these field courses has been arranged at the University's field stations. This has given a great opportunity for students to interact with the teachers and researchers. In March 2012 an international winter limnology school was held at the Lammi research station. The Nordic Network in Baltic Sea Remote Sensing has offered intensive courses outside Finland. The number of students choosing geophysics as their major subject has increased moderately during the past 10 years. This trend seems to continue as we create awareness at high schools by promoting university studies in geophysics. Environmental studies are generally popular among the younger generation, and geophysics offers interesting career opportunities in research as well as in private sector companies. We are now constructing an “introduction to geophysics” course for high school teachers to promote geophysics. Teaching material will be provided for teachers to be used in high school teaching.

Meteorology

In Meteorology, the Department of Physics has the only degree program in Meteorology in Finland. Selected courses in physics and geophysics can be also included in the subject studies of meteorology, and vice versa, and one of the two lines of specialization in MSc studies of Meteorology is arranged in close co-operation with the Aerosol and Environmental Physics specialization line. Meteorology also forms an important part in the syllabus of the International Master’s Degree Program in Atmosphere-Biosphere Studies (ABS). The multidisciplinary ABS programme offers versatile studies in atmospheric sciences, covering physical phenomena, atmospheric chemistry, meteorology, physical geography, and ecology. Meteorology also offers courses to the international graduate school CBACCI and a national graduate school with the same themes as ABS. To further strengthen the physical background of students in meteorology, the courses in thermophysics and fluid mechanics were added to the obligatory subject studies in meteorology in 2012. Emphasis on joint discussions and feedbacks between students and all teachers on future developments and planning of meteorology teaching has also continued. 2012 had again several intensive courses, one of which was the international course on flux measurement data processing and calculations, which was organised for the first time. The course is linked also to the Nordic Centres of Excellence DEFROST and CRAICC.  

Physics teacher education

The Physics Teacher education programme of pre-service teachers for lower and upper secondary schools is an important part of the Department’s teaching responsibilities. For teacher education, special courses are given in the Master’s degree studies. The number of the physics students taking the physics teachers’ study programme and the teacher’s licence seems to be settling to below 10 students per year, but the number of students taking the teachers’ studies as a minor subject is expected to be around 25-30. Clearly, this trend needs to be taken into account in future planning of the structure of the studies. In addition, in teacher education first steps have been taken to take better advantage of the multidisciplinary character of the current physical sciences – including e.g. environmental physics, biophysics, geophysics, space physics and astronomy and physical meteorology. All these branches of physics have much potential to enrich the current teacher education

Teaching of physics in Swedish

The teaching of physics in Swedish serves the Swedish-speaking minority of the country, in accordance with the bilingual status of the University of Helsinki. It helps attract students from the Swedish-speaking schools of the whole country to the Department, and makes it easier for them to begin taking courses lectured in Finnish and English as well. The number of students is fairly small, with around 10 new major and 10 minor students coming in each year. This allows for tailoring the teaching programme annually to the needs of the students. In a joint forum between the students and teachers, the “Studiekollegiet”, the higher-level courses to be taught and their timing in the following year are selected to match the students' needs as well as possible, considering the teaching resources. The same forum is also used for evaluation of the teaching. All of the Swedish-speaking teachers are also involved in outreach activities, such as arranging teachers' continued education in Swedish, handling the matriculation exams in physics, and disseminating information about physics studies to high schools.