Isaac Online Platforms: improving A-Level grades for physics and computer science

Isaac Physics
Credit: Isaac Physics

A team from the Department for Computer Science and Technology and the Department of Physics developed novel approaches to transform online interactive and blended learning for 14–19 year-old students and for teachers. The resulting Isaac Online Platforms have improved A-Level grades, access to top universities, teacher workload, and the take-up of physics by non-traditional and under-represented students.

The research began when Alastair Beresford and Andrew Rice started writing software and producing short videos focused around Cambridge University’s undergraduate course on teaching programming in Prolog.

They wanted to go beyond the passive viewing experience and encourage more interaction and feedback tailored to an individual student’s understanding. To achieve this, they developed the first version of the Interactive Lecture Video Platform, which supported in-video quizzes with immediate feedback on numerical and multiple choices answers – and they gathered data to show how effective is this type of delivery.

The approach has since been applied to learning physics through the Isaac Physics platform, a Department for Education (DfE) project for teachers and students, and more recently to learning computer science.

Over 30% of all A-level computer science students in England use the Isaac Computer Science platform, and since its launch, over 2,200 teachers and 27,000 students have joined the Isaac Computer Science community.

Isaac Physics – co-founded by Lisa Jardine-Wright and Mark Warner – is playing a crucial part in transforming physics teaching. There are more than 10,000 teachers registered on the site, with teachers reporting an average reduction in workload of 3.8 hours per week, freeing up time for them to focus on the individual specific needs of their students. As of June 2021, 342,142 students had registered since Isaac Physics began, completing nearly 75 million question attempts.

The impact has been to improve grades and University entrance outcomes for A-level students studying physics, contributing towards the UK government priorities to increase STEM graduates to meet the current skills shortage.

The platform also supports students from non-traditional higher education backgrounds and engages under-represented groups like women in physics. Approximately 21% of the current A-level cohort are women; whereas, over the past 6.5 years, 34-36% of Isaac Physics online users have been women.

“The teachers don’t have as much marking to do of the routine mathematical questions that come up. Isaac Physics takes a big part of the workload off our hands and frees us up to do the other things.”

– Teacher on ‘Why use Isaac Physics?