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The 15th International Gathering of Optics and Photonics Educators: ETOP2019

Judy Donnelly - OSA ETOP LRAC Chair

Since 1988, educators from around the world have met every two years at the international ETOP (Education and Training in Optics and Photonics) conference to share and learn best practices for teaching optics and photonics . This year’s ETOP, hosted by Université Laval and the Centre d’Optique, Photonique et Laser in Québec City, Québec, Canada, was attended by over 175 educators representing pre-college, undergraduate, graduate and informal education. During the two and a half day conference there were 92 paper presentations and 32 posters. 2019 marked my eighth ETOP conference, beginning with ETOP 2001 in Singapore and spanning 3 continents and eight countries.

Caption: ETOP participants enthusiastically join in a rousing traditional French song at the conference banquet, held at a typical Québec sugar shack, La Sucrerie Blouin.

Credit: Gabrielle Thériault

The meetings goal is to disseminate new developments in teaching optics and photonics to educators ranging from students and volunteers doing outreach to university professors in graduate programs.  In addition to sessions on curriculum and laboratory development, education and training for industry needs, teaching with new technologies and pedagogies, and program accreditation and evaluation, this year’s ETOP also featured special topic events such as a “Meet, Learn and Share” multidisciplinary get-together; a diversity, inclusion and equity activity; and a panel discussion on training photonics experts for industry roles. Four hands-on workshops introduced participants to topics ranging from using digital technologies in the classroom and teaching optical design software to problem-based learning and training for professionals who do outreach in informal environments. Through a partnership with the Photonics North conference, ETOP registration provided access to all the Photonics North technical content including a keynote talk by Nobel laureate and 2015 OSA President Donna Strickland. In keeping with the emphasis on sharing and learning, the ETOP proceedings are freely available online in the OSA and SPIE digital libraries.

What sets ETOP apart from many other conferences is its “family reunion” vibe, in no small part due to the social events highlighting the host institution’s local culture. This year was no exception; the conference banquet at a typical Québec sugar shack had participants clapping and singing (in French), line dancing and eating traditional local delicacies. The camaraderie continued through the remainder of the conference as those who had attended many ETOPs continued to welcome this year’s newcomers. In many cases, the sole conference for optics and photonics educators has become a chance to catch up with old friends we see only there every two years.

ETOP has four permanent sponsors, The Optical Society (OSA); SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics; IEEE, the Photonics Society; and ICO, the International Commission on Optics. These societies provide funding to the conference and one representative each to the Long Range Advisory Committee (LRAC). LRAC members solicit and review applications to host future meetings and select the venue for the next ETOP conference. For the past several years I have been fortunate to serve as OSA’s representative to the LRAC, providing me with a unique opportunity for a “behind the scenes” look at what it takes to host an ETOP conference. The committee considers a variety of criteria including location and infrastructure, ease of travel to the venue from both developed and developing nations, number and quality of collaborating organizations, and level of detail provided in the application. This year the LRAC reviewed three strong proposals to host ETOP 2021, and made the decision to award the next ETOP to the Optics & Photonics Society of Singapore. With the 2021 location decided, the ETOP family can now begin planning for our next education get-together. We hope to see you there!

Image for keeping the session alive