The Tough Road to Better Science Teaching

Jeffrey Brainard:

The principal effort is led by the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In 2003 the NSF gave the university a five-year, $10-million grant to establish the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning. The center has worked with more than 1,000 new faculty members and graduate students at Madison and other universities to try the new teaching methods and conduct research on the process of putting them into practice.
The project also works on ways to attract science professors to join in the innovation. Trying the new teaching methods, the center’s leaders say, should be viewed as conducting an experiment with measurable results — an approach that appeals to the instincts of researchers. Organizers also argue that the new methods are more professionally satisfying than delivering conventional lectures.
Observers hope that the Wisconsin project will show results different from those of a similar NSF-financed effort that ran from 1993 to 2002. An evaluation of that program found that participants, who were graduate students, rated it highly but felt pressure to “conceal” the work from their professors, who viewed it as distracting them from research. What’s more, the new teaching methods often did not take root in the students’ departments, which was a goal of the project.
If young researchers delay trying the new teaching methods until their careers are established, though, they may put the attempt off for good, advocates say. And if American science is to stay competitive, that is a problem. “We don’t really have the time to wait around for another 20 years,” says Madison’s Ms. Millar, “for this kind of sea change to occur.”

Via Kevin Carey.