Fall 2012: Scientific Teaching and Pedagogy

Week 1 – September 27 and 28

Weiman, C. 2007. Why not try a scientific approach to science education? Change Magazine Internet: http://www.changemag.org/Archives/Back Issues/September-October2007/full-scientific-approach.html.

The second article was also well-suited to the start of the academic year: 101Things You Can Do in the First Three Weeks of Class http://www.changemag.org/Archives/Back Issues/September-October 2007/full-scientific-approach.html. From this page you can also view resources from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s other teaching related pages, like Creating Rubrics or Steps for Planning a Course.

We started the first session of this year’s SLP journal club by asking participants what they hoped to gain by attending our weekly meetings. Returning members hoped to continue the journal club as a forum for discussing effective teaching strategies and ideas found in education research literature. New members were looking for opportunities to learn about and practice new teaching pedagogy before experimenting in the classroom. A short conversation about strategies for the first day of class was followed by a discussion on the Weiman article. Topics included:

  • What does it mean to “think like a scientist”? Is it important for all students to be able to engage in scientific reasoning?
  • As students, instructors in higher education likely found the lecture to be an effective learning model and may be uncomfortable trying techniques discussed in the literature designed to cater to a variety of learning styles.
  • How much of the learning process occurs during class time vs outside of class when students read texts and complete other assignments?

Teaching take-away of the week:
Students may be resistant to new learning environments that deviate from the lecture model because they are so conditioned to instructor-centered classes. Tell students on the first day of class to expect these alternative approaches and remind them often why active learning is often more effective than lecturing. Convince students that these unfamiliar methods are worth trying. Buy-in is important.

Week 2 – October 4 and 5

101 Things You Can Do in the First Three Weeks of Class“(http://www.unl.edu/gradstudies/current/teaching/first-3-weeks). This was assigned last week. From this page you can also view valuable resources from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s other teaching related pages, like Creating Rubrics or Steps for Planning a Course.

Last Thursday there was some discussion about the effectiveness of interactive teaching methods compared with more traditional lecture techniques. As a framework for further discussion of this important issue, we read Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class, Louis Deslauriers, et al. Science 332, 862 (2011).

To begin the second week of the SLP journal club, participants discussed strategies for beginning a new term with clear goals and expectations. Ideas included:

  • Instructor introductions that include details on career and research
  • Open discussions about teaching strategies and learning goals
  • Collecting anonymous note cards from students with a list of questions
  • Taking photos of students
  • Engage students in material early by giving assignment on day 1

The group then debated the merits of more traditional strategies such as taking roll and reading course syllabi on the first day of class without reaching consensus. A discussion of the week’s assigned reading brought up concerns about potential bias in the experiment’s design. In particular, the ability of an instructor to engage students during class may have more to do with an instructors talents than the method of instruction. Many thought the results of the experiment would have been more meaningful had the instructors in the two sections switched classes from week to week.

Teaching take-away of the week:
Try designing a lecture in which no new information is introduced to the students. Rather, have students come to class prepared to use new information they have already processed through assignments and readings.

Use the class time as an opportunity to engage in the material rather than present it.

Week 3 – October 11 and 12

This week in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club we started to explore specific ways to engage students in learning science.  Our first paper was Issue-Oriented Science:  Using Socioscientific Issues to Engage Biology Students L. Lenz and M. Willcox, Amer. Biol. Teacher 74, 551 (2012).

SLP Associate Director Elly Vandegrift returned from the 2012 HHMI Undergraduate Science Education Program Directors and Professors Meeting and began this week’s session by reporting on some of the major themes from the conference. Of particular concern to HHMI are high attrition rates of students who enter college identifying as STEM majors. Recent statistics show greater than 60% of these students choose a different course of study before completing their first year.

Our discussion of the weekly reading revealed a near consensus on the effectiveness of increasing student engagement by relating course content to topics in the news. However, those with experience with this technique caution that some students tend to get carried away with “hot-topics” and can neglect the connection to scientific principle being studied.

Teaching take-away of the week:
Give students a reading assignment from the journal Nature’s News and Views section (or an equivalent section aimed at non-specialists from another publication) and asses their ability to evaluate the research being presented.

Week 4 – October 18 and 19

Last week in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club, Elly Vandegrift cited statistics regarding the substantial attrition of students who originally expressed interest in STEM majors.  Many such students left after only one science course.  To get us thinking about how to keep some of those students in science majors, this week we discussed a very recent PNAS paper by Jo Handelsman’s group, Science Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students, by C. Moss-Racusin, et al., PNAS 109, 16474 (2012).  Handelsman is an author of the great book Scientific Teaching, which many of us received copies of from Cynthia Bauerle during her visit last year.

The discussion from this week’s meetings focused on the importance of increasing the diversity of faculty and students both at the graduate and undergraduate level in the sciences. It is clear from the conclusions of this week’s reading that biases towards underrepresented groups are prevalent within the scientific community. Moreover, both faculty and graduate student journal club participants report complications in hiring diverse faculty members here at the UO despite recruiting efforts aimed at attracting applicants from diverse backgrounds.

To change the face of of tomorrow’s scientific community institutions should adopt policies that raise awareness about these issues and provide a forum for their discussion. While there is no clear path to increasing diversity in the sciences, many agree that understanding we are all susceptible to subtle bias is the first step.

Teaching take-away of the week:
Week 5 is a great time to get student feedback about how things are going in your course! The Teaching Effectiveness Program (TEP) recommends asking a few simple questions, with perhaps a few others to address issues specific to your course. Consider asking:

  • What’s working well in the course and helping you learn?
  • What constructive suggestions do you have for improving the course?

Once students have completed the survey, thank the students and talk about the results in class, even if you won’t be implementing any of their suggestions! This makes the students feel that you actually care what they think, making them more likely to evaluate you favorably in the future. The conversation also makes it more likely that you will follow through on any planned changes. For details on how to implement the survey, please see the TEP website at.

Week 5 – October 25 and 26

The ability to critically evaluate information sources is an important part of science literacy. Our conversations in the past touched on how to help students develop this ability, especially as it applies to judging the quality and reliability of articles from the scientific literature. Our paper for this week presented some guidelines for students to follow in evaluating scientific papers and other sources.

Science Literacy, Critical Thinking, and Scientific Literature: Guidelines for Evaluating Scientific Literature in the Classroom. K. Jurecki and M. C. F. Wander, J. Geosci. Educ. 60, 100-105 (2012).

This week’s reading prompted our group to discuss questions fundamental to the idea of science literacy: how important is it for scientists to be able to evaluate science outside their field of expertise? How would a scientist assess claims in a field where they have little or no expertise? Is it reasonable to ask undergraduates, particularly non-science majors, to read and evaluate primary literature?

The assigned reading from J. of Geoscience Education suggested a number of strategies to help students evaluate scientific literature but several participants questioned the value of assigning primary literature to undergraduate non-science majors. We agreed that leaving students to their own devices with the task of reading and evaluating scientific literature would be overwhelming. However, a carefully crafted reading assignment where students are guided intellectually through a well chosen article can achieve the goal of fostering critical-thinking skills in students. At a time when such a disconnect exists between claims made by the scientists and claims made by the media giving students the skills to read all sources of information critically is crucial.

Teaching take-away of the week:
Provide students with two articles making contradicting claims. Challenge students to clearly articulate the point of contention, describe reasons the claims being made could be controversial and choose a position to defend.

Week 6 – November 1 and 2

An important part of science literacy is the ability to take the knowledge and modes of thinking developed in science courses and apply them to life outside the classroom.  This week in the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club, we considered Service Learning as a way to engage students and help them apply course content and scientific thinking to their lives as citizens.  We read Service Learning Track in General Chemistry:  Giving Students a Choice, by K. J. Donaghy and K. J. Saxton, J. Chem. Educ. 89, 1378-83 (2012).

The term “service learning” was new to many in our group but once the definition was established, we realized that the University had a number of similar opportunities including the architecture program’s Urban Farm course and the Honors College Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. While these programs may not identify as service learning opportunities, they follow a model similar to the program discussed in this week’s reading.

Many participants felt that service learning could be an effective teaching technique in non-majors courses because it provides a valuable opportunity for students to apply what they learned in class to a project that benefits the community. Experiences like these are likely to help students appreciate the role science plays in their everyday lives.

Teaching take-away of the week:
Find an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned in class to help groups and organizations in the community. Any activity that allows students to showcase their new-found “expertise” helps students see themselves in the role of “scientist” and identify as a member of the scientific community.

Week 7 – November 8 and 9

This week at the Science Literacy Teaching Journal Club we watched a video of the presentation entitled The Nature of Student Persistence in STEM: PCAST & Beyond, given by Jo Handelsman of Yale University at the HHMI Undergraduate Program’s Directors and Professors Meeting. Handelsman is an author of the PNAS article on subtle bias in science that we read in Week 4.

This video features Yale Professor and President’s Council on Advisors on Science and Technolgy (PCAST) member Jo Handelsman lecturing on the findings published in the committee’s most recent report to the President. The committee found that at current levels, the United States’ workforce will experience a shortage of over 1 million STEM educated workers over the next ten years. Handelsman begins by outlining the committee’s proposal to retain an additional 10% of college students who identify themselves as STEM majors upon entering college but who leave their discipline and complete degrees in other fields (an increase from 40% to 50%). The committee projects that even such a subtle increase would generate an additional 750,000 STEM jobs in the coming decade.

The committee identified this increase in persistence of self-identified STEM majors as the most cost effective solution in increasing the number of college graduates holding STEM degrees. To achieve this goal, the committee outlines an “engage to excel” strategy that focuses on three major changes to education policy:

  • Transition for lab-based to research-based introductory courses
  • Emphasis on evidence-based teaching practices
  • National “experiment” in math education (have science faculty rather than math faculty teach math to science majors).

Handelsman then goes into her own work describing a framework for persistence among first-year STEM majors. A key element of this framework relies on creating an environment where students identify as scientists and can picture themselves with a career in a STEM field.

The presentation closes with a review of the Handelsman group’s recent article published in PNAS (and discussed in week 4 of this term’s journal club) on the subject of gender bias of science faculty at top research Universities.

Week 8 – November 15 and 16

One of the things we’ve discussed several times as a skill that’s important for scientific literacy is the ability to read graphs. We’ve also noted that students often have trouble with this. To remedy this, a few of us met with the Interactive Media Group on campus to create an on-line graphing diagnostic tool, consisting of graphs, multiple choice questions on their interpretation, and (hopefully) ways the students can manipulate the graphs.  We “took over” journal club this week to describe the project.  Journal Club participants were asked to send examples of graphs and questions to include on this tool.  Note that the content isn’t important — think of things that may have come up in your classes that perhaps illustrate linear and nonlinear relationships, noise and uncertainty, etc. — whatever seems important and / or unclear.

Click here to view a few examples.  (Raghu noted: at first, I had trouble thinking of examples, but after I started, and stared at old class notes, more and more came to mind!

Week 9 – Dates

There is no Journal Club meeting this week due to the holiday.

Week 10 – November 29 and 30

In the Science Literacy Journal Club meetings of Week 7, we watched a video of Jo Handelsman’s presentation on the PCAST report.  Unfortunately, due to time constraints we were unable to have any discussion of the important topics the report raised.  Therefore we devoted this week’s meetings to the PCAST report itself. We read Engage to Excel:  Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Week 11 – December 7

This week, we welcomed Stas Stavrianeas and Mark Stewart from Willamette University to lead a pair of workshops sharing their experience with interdisciplinary curriculum design for their iScience program. Their presentations are available here:

Mark Stewart – iScience: Promoting science literacy for all students one lab at a time

Stas Stavrianeas – Curriculum design and pedagogy for your courses

Workshop Activity:
The audience participated in the workshop by writing answers to a series of questions. Follow this link to view the complied answers to this activity. As you read the responses keep the following in mind: Are we all on the same page? What are the common trends?