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5 General Discussion In preparation for organizing their ideas into a framework of criteria and benchmarks, participants spent much of the concluding discussion of the workshop identifying qualities that institutions or departments could use to measure the effectiveness of courses and educational programs. One such quality, for example, would be a focus on students’ success in learning the skills of scientific reasoning and information gathering. Another measure would of course be students’ understanding of science content. As noted by Richard McCray, University of Colorado, workshop participants had already identified two other critically important learning outcomes: gains in students’ demonstrated abilities to learn on their own and to recognize when they have learned. To achieve these desired learning outcomes, faculty engaged in effective teaching would employ some of the instructional strategies described in Chapter 3, and be judged by their success in utilizing such strategies. To further the pursuit of effective instruction, institutions and departments would form education leadership groups such that faculty could share teaching experiences and resources with colleagues and become familiar with the literature of education research. Communication feedback loops and dissemination mechanisms were identified as impor-tant aspects of promoting effective teaching at institutional and departmental levels (see Chapter 4). These ideas are also elaborated in some detail in the National Research Council (NRC) report Evaluating and Improving Undergraduate Teaching in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (2003). Several participants pointed out that departments should support faculty’s collaboration outside their own institu-
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tions, such as faculty participation in workshops to educate them on effective instructional practices and dissemination of instructional experiences through professional societies and other regional and national organizations. Many participants felt that developing support structures within science departments for effective research in science education was an important step toward improving science education. This chapter summarizes participants’ discussions in regards to the institutional or departmental qualities listed above. FOCUS ON STUDENTS’ SKILLS FOR LEARNING ON THEIR OWN How does one measure gains in students’ abilities to learn on their own? McCray emphasized that introductory science courses need to focus on students’ learning skills of scientific reasoning and information gathering as much as on science content, and on helping students take greater responsibility for their own learning. The content in science fields is growing so rapidly, he noted, that it has become virtually impossible to transmit it all. In addition, the paths chosen by students are very diverse; the specific content needed by a student who will go on to medical school is different from the content needed by someone who will become a biologist or a K–12 teacher. Thus, teaching the skills necessary to learn on one’s own is most important. The faculty’s role is to help students understand the skills necessary to learn on their own—to seek out resources, make decisions based on evidence, assess one’s understanding of these skills and abilities, and apply these skills to relevant content—and to promote students’ taking responsibility for their own learning. Anton Lawson, Arizona State University, added that instructors should be aware of the reasoning skills and abilities students have when they enter the classroom and the need to focus on developing those to a higher level throughout the course. Students should also leave science courses with an appreciation and understanding of the nature of science. INSTITUTIONAL SYSTEMS THAT PROMOTE EFFECTIVE INSTRUCTION Ramon Lopez, University of Texas at El Paso, acknowledged these were important learning objectives, but suggested that efforts focused only on individual instructors are insufficient to bring about the required level of change. He called on Jack Wilson, UMassOnline, to describe further how
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he had initiated change to improve education at the institutional level at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). Administrative Support, Common Vision, and Effective Strategies Create Success Wilson recalled that the transformation was catalyzed by four intersecting forces: the vision of RPI’s new president, the retirement of faculty members who had been responsible for the traditional curriculum in introductory physics, the fact that a number of faculty had become frustrated with their unsuccessful efforts in teaching the introductory courses, and the convenient availability of the new Studio Physics program as an alternative. Physics faculty members became supportive of the reform efforts when they discovered that they could work with students in smaller and less intimidating groups, that the new structure required less preparation, that students demonstrated better understanding of concepts, and that they enjoyed the teaching experience more. Michael Zeilik, University of New Mexico, suggested that medical and law schools could serve as examples of institutions that have demonstrated successful innovations by changing not just selected courses but their entire curricular structure and teaching vision. For example, the University of Texas Medical Branch has virtually abandoned traditional lecture courses. On its website the center now states the following as its three most important educational principles: “Learning should be active, not passive”; “Most of the basic science facts and information can be learned in the context of clinical problems, an approach that highlights relevance for basic science knowledge”; and “Faculty time should be used to introduce, to clarify, to discuss, to stimulate, to guide, to impart and imbue the student with enthusiasm for the topic at hand” (http://meded.utmb.edu/faq/principles.htm). According to Robert Zemsky, University of Pennsylvania, some medical schools place great emphasis in their new curricula on information transfer, to the extent that their publications speak in terms of teaching and developing skills that resemble those of librarians. New physicians are trained to know how to ask the question, how to find the answer through resources, and how to determine the appropriateness of the answer within known constraints. Such changes reflect the recognition in recent decades that the goals of medical education must change from teaching science to equipping students to learn science. Katayoun Chamany, Eugene Lang College, wondered if successful reforms might result from new efforts by institutions to think more about learning
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outcomes. When faculty begin to envision the environments and activities that their students will experience in the future, they may feel the responsibility to offer subject matter that is relevant to the students and to provide capabilities and skills needed for them to function effectively in these environments and activities. Expanding on the need for relevance, Chamany also pointed out that when instructors choose subject matter that is useful and has a direct bearing on students’ lives, students are more likely to assimilate the facts, concepts, and skills being taught. She promoted the approach that is taken by programs such as Science Education for New Civic Engagement and Responsibilities (SENCER) of the American Association of Colleges and Universities (http://www.aacu-edu.org/SENCER/overview.cfm), which offers program modules and case studies as techniques for connecting subject matter to students’ interests. Referring to the report Leadership Reconsidered by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (2000), David Gosser, City College of New York, added that if students are treated as participants (or leaders at some level) in course design and empowered to offer input on content and teaching methods, as is common in the Peer-Led Team Learning workshop model (http://www.pltl.org), they are likely to perceive their education experience as relevant. Lack of Administrative Support and Rewards Triggers Failure Turning away from successful reforms at institutions, Clyde Herreid, State University of New York at Buffalo, voiced concern over failed efforts at reform. He noted that problem-based learning programs that began with great fanfare have not been sustained at some medical schools. He attributed many of these failures to lack of administrative buy-in and nonexistent reward systems. The efforts of small, enthusiastic faculty groups were lost for lack of appropriate administrative support. Lack of success is not limited to medical school endeavors. Carl Wieman, University of Colorado, pointed out that the current system in science departments rewards discovery-based and applied research with little consideration given to teaching responsibilities. Science faculty are encouraged to devote most of their time and energy to their research projects because funding and rewards are directed toward research. In a recent meta-analysis of 122 studies of standards-based school reform programs between 1991 and 2001, Chatterji (2002) found that “these reforms have been largely unfocused and nonsystemic in design and have thereby failed to help individual schools, school systems, and statewide systems to develop in the directions that are consistent with the
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mission of the reform movement” (p. 345). Research Defines Need and Direction Strengthening his focus on strategies that would apply at the national and institutional level, Lopez stated that it is important for researchers and change agents to examine both the successes and failures of institutional reform. He cited the calculus reform effort as one in which panels of objective observers have provided carefully balanced reviews that describe both successful aspects and those in need of improvement (e.g., NRC, 2002b, pp. 246–249). McCray emphasized a point that had been made several times during the workshop, that efforts to improve instruction should be targeted especially at large introductory science courses where the need for change is often greatest. Support Systems for Science Education Research Requested Paula Heron, University of Washington, suggested that one way to promote effective teaching at the institutional/departmental level is to hire and find ways of supporting faculty whose research focuses on the learning and teaching of the science discipline represented. Such faculty should be able to thrive, and receive recognition, in traditional research departments. M. Patricia Morse, University of Washington, agreed that an institutional influence on improving education is to advance a structure that accepts the scholarship of science education research as equivalent to discovery research conducted in science fields. She also agreed that some science faculty need to be involved in science education research, and they need to be based in science departments. Many participants saw the value of carrying out science education research within science departments, in the context of a science discipline. However, David Brakke, James Madison University, raised the question of whether a traditional science department could support a “critical mass” of faculty whose scholarship lies in science education research (i.e., a large enough group to sustain high-quality research on teaching and learning). Currently, noted Lawson, in some departments individual faculty members persist by collaborating with colleagues at other institutions engaged in similar research and by earning respect within their own department or institution for the external grant support that they receive and their reputation as education researchers. Lillian McDermott, University of Washington, pointed out that the number of faculty in a department with a focus on science education
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research would depend on the range of programs and research projects undertaken in the department. Different numbers of individuals would be needed to sustain teacher education programs, curriculum development efforts, or large or small research projects on learning and teaching of the discipline subject matter. Role of Faculty in Science Education Research Addressed Throughout the workshop, participants recognized different roles of science faculty with regard to teaching and research. Three kinds of roles sparked repeated discussions: scholarship taken in science research, scholarship taken in science education research, and efforts aimed at scholarly teaching (by which most participants meant instruction that is directed at specific learning goals, relies on research about how people learn, and employs ongoing evaluation of learning as well as teaching). One question raised by the above discussion was how appropriate and feasible is it for faculty in science departments to devote their scholarship to science education research rather than—or in addition to— science research? Continued discussion set out to define the characteristics of individuals who assume these different roles and to determine how both faculty whose scholarship lies in science research and those whose scholarship lies in science education research can engage in scholarly teaching. Earlier in the workshop, Wieman had remarked that the characteristics of education innovators, presented by Susan Millar, University of Wisconsin, are similar to those of many successful scientists. Several participants had agreed with his remarks. Zemsky commented that it is important to define the distinction between a research leader and an educational leader. He wondered if one person could play both roles. Referring to examples provided by Millar and Elaine Seymour, University of Colorado, Zemsky pointed out that even when one person has assumed both leadership roles, the roles are usually undertaken at separate stages of that person’s career. Zemsky’s remarks spurred a number of comments from other participants. James Serum, SciTek Ventures, noted that he agreed with Wieman’s observation and added the important distinction that education innovators feel personally rewarded when they observe students understanding new concepts. Successful researchers feel satisfaction when they make discoveries in their own laboratories. Priscilla Laws, Dickinson College, echoed Serum’s observation and took the opportunity to clarify the terminology regarding effective teaching and research in teaching. Certainly, innova-
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tors in education and innovators in science are likely to have similar qualities, but they usually do not possess, by nature of their choice of scholarship, the same passions and talents. Most faculty members with research appointments are expected to conduct research and also to teach. Referring to her own dean’s distinction between teaching and research, Laws noted that every faculty member at her institution is responsible for effective teaching within his or her own classroom. But those efforts in the classroom do not constitute research, or scholarship, unless they are extended to include evaluation, written articles, and dissemination beyond the institution (Boyer, 1990; Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff, 1997; NRC, 2003). Insofar as such an effort adheres to agreed principles of scientific research (Shulman, 1997; NRC, 2002c), the distinction between those who have been called education innovators and those who have been called successful scientists or researchers is only their choice of research fields; they are both in fact researchers (scientists). McCray noted that common characteristics of the two sets of faculty are the ability to disseminate information and to collaborate with colleagues. McCray also pointed out that instructors who are recognized to have effective courses or programs make conscious efforts to collaborate with their colleagues and provide them with resources about teaching. Assessment of learning objectives and actual learning outcomes is an ongoing process within their courses as well as within disciplinary programs, departments, and institutions that they can influence. Wieman conceded that developing structures for effective research in science education may be an important step toward improving science education, but he felt that the more important issue was to discuss efforts necessary to develop and train science faculty who are not likely to be involved in education research but who are nonetheless effective science instructors. He drew attention to the fact that the workshop’s focus was on improving science education, not establishing science education research. Robert DeHaan, National Academies, questioned whether science education research would have an impact in the near future in terms of disseminating effective instructional practices and advancing professional development for young science faculty. Heron and McDermott responded that they are currently conducting research into this question in their physics department at the University of Washington (see McDermott’s paper in Appendix B). McDermott pointed out that an important issue for the Physics Education
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Group is to discover the connections between science education research and instructional practices. She noted that developing reliable answers to such questions requires a process of pre- and posttests, iterations, and testing in other places, and therefore takes time. After their many years of research, they presently conduct workshops for science faculty to educate them on effective instructional practices, covering aspects of course design based on Physics by Inquiry (McDermott, Shaffer, and Rosenquist, 1996). Heron offered that faculty could save time and effort while improving science education by adopting materials developed by those engaged in science education research. In their workshops, they encourage participants to determine whether the materials are appropriate and useful for their institutions. Heron also identified a national program, funded by the National Science Foundation and the American Association of Physics Teachers, that is exposing young physics faculty to recent research on the learning of physics and the implications such information has on instructional practices (American Association of Physics Teachers, 2001). Heron’s suggestions echoed Millar’s findings (described in Chapter 4) that effective instructors find teaching an ongoing creative effort, intellectually exciting, and an opportunity to learn, try new things, and interact with colleagues. IMPERATIVE FOR COLLABORATION AND FEEDBACK The above discussions indicate that collaboration among faculty members and administrators, dissemination of science education research, and ongoing assessment and reevaluation of educational efforts are key in promoting effective instruction at the institutional level. Morse remarked that institutions should encourage faculty to strive for a higher level of collaboration through their professional societies; all science faculty should continually receive and reevaluate the information they need to be effective teachers through workshops, professional meetings, and journal papers. In agreement, John Jungck, Beloit College, added that learning about the existing knowledge base in science education also provides opportunities for faculty members to appreciate problems that exist in the field and to discover new techniques and programs that they can use in their own institutions. Jungck acknowledged that what has been discovered with regard to education in one science field likely has applications to other science fields. McCray took this idea one step
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further by suggesting that faculty should be encouraged to develop leadership groups on campuses with members representing different departments. The goal of these faculty groups would be to share educational experiences and take steps to expand effective instruction throughout their campuses and other institutions. Jungck asserted that in addition to formulating new research questions appropriate for the improvement of science education, faculty leadership groups would also have the opportunity to examine current science education research in ways that recognize the connections between disciplines. SUMMARY The following is a summary of the major ideas voiced by workshop participants during this final wrap-up session. For the most part, they mirror and underscore what was expressed in the earlier sessions. Workshop participants identified qualities that institutions or departments could use to measure the effectiveness of courses and educational programs. Administrators and faculty members share a common vision that focuses their efforts on students’ learning and helping students take greater responsibility for their own learning. Institutional systems reward faculty for their efforts to improve teaching and encourage collaboration. The value of education research that adheres to accepted principles of scientific investigation is respected and acknowledged. Interdepartmental education leadership groups are formed to share teaching experiences and resources with colleagues and become familiar with the literature of education research. Faculty continually seek feedback from students and colleagues about their teaching and use that information to reevaluate and improve their performance. Faculty and administrators promote change in STEM education beyond their own institutions through their professional societies and other regional and national organizations. They may contribute nationally by applying strategies of effective programs at their own institutions, disseminating information about their own courses, both successes and failures, and working with colleagues to formulate research questions dealing with teaching and learning.
Representative terms from entire chapter: