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Monday, June 12, 2017

A Non-Revolutionary Way to Improve Teaching Quality | Inside Higher Ed

A blog by John Warner
"The quality of undergraduate instruction isn't just a problem of pedagogy, says John Warner, author of the story collection Tough Day for the Army, and a novel, The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you're going to be asked to leave.

Improving How Universities Teach Science:
Lessons from the Science Education Initiative

Noble prizewinner and Stanford physicist Carl Wieman has taken the next step on his mission to transform undergraduate teaching with the publication of Improving How Universities Teach Science: Lessons from the Science Education Initiative, which lays out the results of Wieman’s multi-year effort to move undergraduate science instruction beyond the “big lecture.”

Wieman covers his work in fostering “active learning” with its focus on projects and problems, and orients his philosophy around helping students learn how to “think” inside a particular scientific discipline.

I don’t teach science, but it’s a philosophy I can get behind, since I try to achieve something similar in writing instruction by orienting our work around “writing-related” problems that require students to think and act as writers do. Rather than providing students with templates and rules in the name of pushing them towards easily assessed writing products, I want them struggling with the full range of challenges writers face when their writing matters.

Wieman is frustrated that schools don’t systematically study teaching methods, and believes that systemization could uncover the best methods for teaching science.  I am more cautious on this front because I think teaching and learning are complicated human processes that resist this sort of reduction. We can uncover many different approaches and principles that seem to work well, but I am dubious of discovering one curriculum to rule them all.

It’s not as though Wieman is breaking particularly new ground when it comes to understanding how and why we learn. A resurrected Maria Montessori would easily recognize the underlying philosophy of Wieman’s approach. One of the pressing questions 

Wieman’s book raises (and one I think about often) is why, as students advance, we make school less and less geared to the ways we are naturally wired to learn.

The book is a useful read for anyone who is interested in considering some of the challenges of teaching undergraduates, though it’s only directly applicable to science instructors, and really is most oriented towards advancing the conversation about how teaching and learning are considered at the administrative level.

To that end, it’s a little frustrating because as Wieman acknowledges in an interview with NPR, there’s little to no evidence that most upper level administrators are particularly interested in “transforming” learning. Perhaps Wieman’s systemization will make it more attractive as learning will become something that can be measured and used as an instrument of institutional prestige.

A marketable metric stands a better chance of getting administrative traction.
Read more...  

Source: Inside Higher Ed (blog)