Changing the Culture of Science Teaching at a Large Research University William B. Wood, Katherine Perkins, and Carl Wieman Departments of MCD Biology and Physics and Science Education Initiative University of Colorado, Boulder Vision and Change Conference Washington, DC, July 16, 2009
How can we change the teaching culture of an entire college so that science is taught more effectively? An approach that seems to be succeeding: The Science Education Initiative (SEI) at U. of Colorado, Boulder and U. B. C., Vancouver, Canada
The SEI at University of Colorado Funding from the University: 5-year project, 2006-2011 Competitive applications from departments to participate in the program
Five participating science departments: Chemistry and Biochemistry Earth Sciences Integrative Physiology MCD Biology Physics (funded in 2008) All strongly research-oriented All teaching many undergraduates
SEI Goal - to improve undergraduate science education • Process In each department, for each large course: • Establish specific learning goals through faculty consensus • Create validated assessments for measuring attainment of learning goals • Create and utilize pedagogically effective materials and teaching approaches that are: • aligned with the learning goals • based on educational research • improved each year based on assessment results
1. Establish specific learning goals through faculty consensus • Learning goals: • specify what students should be able to do by the end of each course • guide 60-70% of instruction (remainder discretionary) • Result: the departmental curriculum is redefined in terms of specific learning objectives, which can be assessed by performance-based criteria
Example from our introductory genetics course After completing this course, students should be able to: 1.Analyze phenotypic data and deduce patterns of inheritance from family histories. Course level (one of 9 course-level learning goals): a) Draw a pedigree based on information in a story problem. b) Distinguish between dominant, recessive, autosomal, X- linked, and cytoplasmic modes of inheritance. c) Calculate the probability that an individual in a pedigree has a particular genotype. Topic level (3-5 topic-level goals for each course- level goal):
2. Create validated assessment tools for measuring attainment of learning goals • These assessments: • are aligned with learning goals • validated through student interviews, input from outside experts, and statistical analysis of results from large numbers of students • are administered as pre- and post-tests, to measure normalized learning gain <g>
LG2 LG5 LG3 LG7 LG9 LG4 LG1 LG6 Pre-test Post-test increment LG8 P values (mean fraction correct answers) on each of the 25 GCA questions, pre- and post-tests, grouped by learning goal Item Difficulty Index (P) Question number n = 607 students Smith, MK, Wood, WB, Knight, JK (2008) The Genetics Concept Assessment: a New Concept Inventory for Gauging Student Understanding of Genetics. CBE-Life Sci. Educ. 7: 422-430.
3. Create and utilize materials and teaching approaches proven to be pedagogically effective • Materials and approaches include a variety of activities in addition to or in place of lecturing that: • are cooperative, involving students working in groups • are coupled with immediate feedback • require students to recall, think about, apply, and verbalize important concepts, rather than simply record facts for later memorization.
Some examples: • Clicker questions (challenging, with peer discussion) • Concept mapping • Problem solving (in groups) • Analysis of case studies (in groups) • Analysis and explanation of research data
Implementation • Research-active faculty don't have time to do these things on their own. • They are assisted by Science Teaching Fellows, supported by the SEI grant.
Science Teaching Fellows (STFs): • have Ph.D.'s in the discipline • have elected to pursue careers in science education • receive pedagogical training as a group from SEI faculty and staff and occasionally education faculty • do little actual teaching • assist faculty in developing learning goals, assessments, and teaching activities • spearhead research to evaluate effectiveness of materials and activities developed for each course, in collaboration with faculty
Use of SEI resources (primarily STFs) by faculty who teach undergraduates in four departments How well is the SEI working, three years into the 5-year project?
How well is the SEI working? Courses impacted: 53 Courses using clickers, peer discussion 22 Students impacted/year: ~10,000 Faculty reporting increase in discussions with peers about education 72% Faculty reporting change in discussions of teaching (less content, more pedagogy) 61% Faculty reporting positive impact of SEI on department 83% More discussion of educational issues in faculty meetings All departments
How well is the SEI working? Education publications by faculty collaborating with STFs* Published: 3 Submitted or in preparation: 22 Several grants for support of education research applied for, at least 2 funded * As of February 2009
How well is the SEI working? Are students learning more as a result of the SEI? Yes, based on STF research results from several individual courses (overall evaluation of the program is in progress)
What SEI features are helping it work? • Department-based (with strong central leadership) • Competitive funding (departments must commit to participate) • One course at a time (in framework of departmentally established learning goals) • Faculty-STF relationship (post-doctoral level STFs are stimulating and non-threatening to faculty) • Synergy between STFs (fostering interdisciplinary interaction and collaboration)
Sustainability? • We predict that the cultural change with regard to teaching will persist beyond the 5-year project. • Learning goals, assessments, and learning activities are being archived and made publically available online. • New instructors can be assimilated into the culture and provided with all the materials they need to propagate these courses.
Conclusions • The SEI appears to be on track to succeed in the transformation of teaching for five science departments. • It should be sustainable beyond the project. • It should be transferable to other institutions!
Acknowledgements: colleagues in MCD Biology Jennifer Knight, Ph.D.- SEI Coordinator Jia Shi - Science Teaching Fellow Michelle Smith - Science Teaching Fellow Twelve participating faculty members The University of Colorado Science Education Initiative http://www.colorado.edu/sei/