Friday, June 15, 2007

STLHE 2007 - Opening Plenary - Dr. Carl Wieman

The official start of the conference got off to a great start. The opening plenary keynote speaker was Dr. Carl Wieman, Nobel Prize winning physicist (the first Nobel laureate I have met BTW), who now heads the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at UBC. He spoke on "Science Education For The 21st Century".

As he put it, ignore that he won the Nobel Prize, and focus on the fact that he has good data to back up what he is saying. Science education (and this applies really to any discipline) needs to be effective and relevant to a large fraction of the population - there is a need to think about and use science like a scientist:
  • Practices based on good data
  • Utilize research on how people learn
  • Distribute results in a scholarly manner
  • Utilize modern technology (he shortened his presentation and did not talk a lot about this point)
Research indicates that learners can handle seven or less things in memory - this is a way lower number than what is actually happening in most science classrooms. There is a pressing need to reduce unnecessary cognitive load - reduced cognitive load improve learning (less really is more - between Dr. Wieman and David Gotshall I am getting that message loud and clear!).

On average, learners will learn less than 30% of concepts already not known. there are implications for instruction:
  1. Student beliefs about science and science problem solving are important (you can avoid a decline if you explicitly address beliefs - to me this means engage the learner)
  2. Traditional science courses are poor at developing expert-like thinking
  3. Need to actively engage learners and guide their learning
    1. Know where they are starting from
    2. Get active processing ideas then probe and guide
    3. Build further with extended effort
The Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI) is the UBC-based centre where this research is ongoing. he is convinced (and am I) that a scientific approach to teaching works (to recap):
  • Practices based on good data
  • Utilize research on how people learn
  • Distribute results in a scholarly manner
  • Utilize modern technology
Dr. Wieman uses "clickers" (one example of many) in some of his teaching for student responses - there has been a lot of discussion about using them as they can also be used for attendance taking and grading and a lot of faculty (me too) see that as a negative (and i assume learners would too), but I think that they are a technology worth looking at for the potential engagement that might result from their use.

A great way to kick off the conference - some real food for thought. I'll be posting the rest of day one later today along with day two, so stay tuned (so much to see, so little time)!...

BTW - that's Dr. Wieman on the left in the picture above.

NOTE: A copy of Dr. Wieman's presentation is available from the STLHE conference handouts page.


David Russell said...

Only seven things in memory? Wow - I have SERIOUSLY been overloading my programming classes then. I will have to examine ways of reducing this for the fall.

By the way, CONGRATULATIONS to you (and me for that matter) on having you FLCP approved. Excellent. I just hope that the meeting to make "adjustments" was not done just so that would not have to reject any of them for 'political' reasons - and that serious edits are in order. We shall see. I am just happy right now that we made it!

Cheers Ian

Ian H. MacLeod said...

I know, me too! Thanks for the heads up on the FLCP, and congrats to you too. I am sure that the feedback will be constructive and useful as we move forward - let the learning journey begin!!