April 7, 2006

Carl Wieman: Trading Research for Teaching

Via InsideHigherEd, an article on Nobel laureate (physics) Carl Wieman and his decision to leave the University of Colorado for the University of British Columbia to pursue, not greater research opportunities, but to investigate issues in the teaching of science, particularly to undergrads.

Wieman has been a major force in pushing a form of science teaching at Colorado know as ”peer instruction.” In peer instruction classrooms, teachers regularly ask students multiple choice concept questions, and the students buzz in their answers with remote clickers. The instructor immediately sees the distribution of answers, and if there are enough incorrect responses, students are asked to try to convince their neighbor of their answer. The students buzz in again — usually with many more correct answers — and when the class mostly has it, the professor can move on. The technique has produced big gains on science concept tests virtually everywhere it has been used. Faculty members at Colorado estimated that perhaps over 10,000 students, thanks, in part, to Wieman, currently carry clickers around campus.

Wieman says that clickers aren’t the cure-all for sleep inducing science lectures, “but can really enhance this kind of interaction.” And with the tidal wave of cheap wireless technology, “it’s practical now,” says Wieman, who teaches a 200-student physics class. “That’s another big reason the time is right for this.” Grounding concepts in practical material also keeps students, if not on the edge of their seats, at least conscious. When Wieman teaches about electromagnetic waves, for example, he starts with “a very mysterious, strange device” called a “microwave.” Students, he says, “are interested in how you can actually understand it, and myths about whether its dangerous or not. They walk away not realizing they’re thinking like scientists.”

1 comment:

José Paulo Santos said...

This article was very helpful for my PhD research work. Thank you John Dupuis.
Best wishes from Portugal