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Implementing quantum mechanics visualisation tools in a distance learning context

Project leader(s): 
Calum MacCormick

The aim of the project is to analyse a trial run of some carefully selected quantum mechanics visualisation tools within the 19J presentation of SM358, and to use the analysis to inform the development of the level 3 physics curriculum.

As a mathematically abstract and profoundly counter-intuitive subject, quantum mechanics (QM) is notoriously difficult to learn - and teach. One successful approach to improving QM teaching is to include lab-class based visualisation activities which allow students to better understand the abstract and counter-intuitive concepts of QM. Of course, the OU is not a classroom based university, so adapting these modern methods to the OU may not be straightforward.

The OU’s SM358 quantum physics course is now 12 years old. SM358 has always received very good student feedback (>90% positive), but in recent years a small decline in student satisfaction has been noticed. It is hypothesised that the changing expectations of our evolving student population is driving this trend. An objective of the new QM course will be to improve student engagement, learning outcomes and satisfaction by using the latest QM visualisation tools.

A notable development at St Andrews is the QuVis quantum visualisation project ( which has also been adopted by the IOP as their recommended QM library.

Our plan is to offer three QuVis activities in parallel with the existing course materials, and to ask the students using QuVis to answer conceptual questions and record their impressions on the activities in a questionnaire. Student participation in the trial is voluntary. We are looking to see what challenges/difficulties arise when QuVis are employed outside of a classroom, and therefore what additional support is required.

QM is not the only mathematically abstract, conceptually challenging STEM subject and so the integration of visualisation tools into our teaching is of wide interest both within and beyond the Open University.