Physics Spotlight

October 2019
Photo of Professor Heath Hatch

Heath Hatch

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Heath Hatch is one of the original lecturers in the Physics Department. Over the past couple years, he has taught PHY-131: Introductory Physics I and PHY-125: Seeing the Light. Some of Heath's teaching interests lie with those that include or promote innovation. Presently, multimodal courses are beginning to develop and even with some of the department's online courses, students are becoming more hands on with their learning no matter the location, than ever before. To learn more about Heath, where he came from and his plans for the future, check out his Q&A below!

As one of the original lecturers hired in the department before there was any predetermined paths to the position set, we want to know more about you! What is your professional background?  What did you major in and where?

I grew up in northern Canada. The kind of place where being a doctor was relatively unheard of and hardly ever pursued. Not graduating high school was common as being a hard worker had more value. I was one of those students who quit and instead went to work on oil rigs.

After getting married and realizing that the oil rigs was not a life for a family, I enrolled in a community college. After completing a few courses, I transferred to The University of Northern British Columbia where I obtained my bachelor’s degree in physics. I chose this major primarily because it was not only hard, but mostly because there were so many people rooting for me to fail. 

I eventually made it to UMass after seeing an advertisement for a lecture prep position. I wasn’t the most qualified, but I was persistent.  Ultimately, I was granted an interview to which I was informed that I wasn’t the most qualified. After a considerable amount of time had gone by, I was offered the position. Thus, I began the adventure of moving my wife and three kids down to Amherst, to which I arrived two days prior to the start of school. I had no idea what I was doing and the lecture prep needed some work, but with the help of the previous lecture prep coordinator, we were able to greatly improve it. Some time later, I would be asked to start teaching summer students and move into undergraduate physics courses the following spring.  I would also continue to work in lecture prep. From there, I began to teach full-time.

In 2005, I decided to pursue a Law degree at Western New England College in their evening program graduating in 2009. The program is 60% of a fulltime load over the course of four years.

How does your educational background help you teach and mentor students at UMass?

My background, where I came from and how I got to where I am now, is one of the secrets to my teaching. My students know my story and how I once struggled in physics. They know how hard I have worked and that despite my path to teaching being untraditional, you can still get to where you want to be, by working hard and taking the road less traveled. Success is not defined by your grade, who you know or how fast you get there.

I feel that by knowing these things, students will feel more comfortable to come to you when they are struggling or need help. It may also help them figure out how to be successful and give them the ability to see another path that may be even shorter or at the very least, richer. If you have an instructor that inspires you, you are more likely to go out of your way to learn and apply yourself.

What would you say are some of your biggest contributions to lecture prep, online classes and/or course curriculum?

I began using tablet computers and combining them with lecture capture software many years ago.  This essentially changed the way the university taught and it potentially contributed greatly with the increase in enrollment from 300 to 600 students. Blended learning was not only well received, but performed well when compared to older teaching methods.

What undergraduate course do you consider your favorite?

Specifically, I like to teach PHY 125 Seeing the Light optics course and PHY 131 Introductory Physics. Really any kind of course that allows you to teach innovation and creative thinking where students get to expand their line of thinking, is my favorite. I find those types of classes the most rewarding not only for the students, but also for the kind of freedom they allow for teaching.

Regarding teaching the future of teaching styles, what do you see as being a future approach to the way courses are offered?

Multimodal courses – Where students can take an active, self-directed role in their mastery of content using collaborative technologies. Providing students multiple ways to engage with ideas and each other allowing students multiple ways to demonstrate their learning.

With online courses, what are some of the major challenges you face, especially with technology and the sciences continuously changing?

Half the challenge is staying up with the technology, the other half, filtering out technology as it needs to enhance learning.

Some courses involve lab projects, how are in class labs different from home labs?

They aren’t that much different. Some universities use virtual labs that are more like games, but they are not hands on. We would rather have the students physically touch and complete the lab. They complete their experiment and document their completion by way of video or images and turn it in for credit. The online students don’t get access to  all the technology or equipment as on campus labs, but they sign out an IOlab kit to complete their work.

Besides being a Senior Lecturer II, are there any other roles you play within Physics or here on campus?

I recently stepped down as Director of Program development for CNS. I did that while continuing to teach for a period of 6 years. I have worked closely with CPE, (Online education) as well.

What do you do outside of UMass?  Do you have a hobby?

I enjoy most outdoor activities such as camping, grilling directly over fire, the Rocky Mountains, Fishing and Canoeing.