spend their lifetime developing expertise as researchers. These
talents can be used to explore questions derived from assessing
student understanding in undergraduate science courses. Research
has shown that active learning methods are effective for improving
student understanding (Johnson et al. 1998, Ebert-May et al. 1997,
2003, Hake 2002). While many faculty are interested in learning
to implement active, learner-centered instructional designs, far
fewer have made them the centerpiece of student’s classroom
taken in this session revealed differences in the way faculty believe
classes should be taught and how they teach them. Although most
faculty agreed that students learn best by doing science, that it
should be taught as practiced, and that the classroom should be
student- rather than teacher-centered, faculty interested in reform
still report that their classrooms are teacher-centered with passive
The work of
Johnson et al. (1998) has shown that cooperative learning is an
excellent first step toward learner-centered teaching. Students
working in groups are forced to confront misconceptions and work
through difficult concepts. In cooperative learning environments,
students and faculty receive feedback, which helps faculty better
understand their misconceptions and difficulties associated with
not to read outside of their research interests. Consequently, to
disseminate results about improved teaching and learning, faculty
need to publish in peer reviewed journals within their disciplines.
We modeled this through publications in Science and Bioscience
and developed a series in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment,
(Pathways to Scientific Teaching, access http://www.first2.org/),
which illustrate active learning pedagogies and provides data about
the effectiveness of these changes. Ideally, these papers will provide
background for future research in teaching and learning. We encourage
faculty to push their science expertise into the classroom not only
in terms of the content and concepts of science, but also in terms
of enriching our understanding of student learning through educational
is a synopsis of discussions that occurred throughout the session.
research: Participants are interested in doing research
on teaching and learning, but are concerned about using themselves
as subjects of studies and do not know how to get into the literature.
They also wondered if money was available for research.
of research: Participants exhibited wide-scale concern
over the readership of journal articles about teaching and learning.
Even Cell Biology Education marginalizes education articles
in a journal separate from the mainstream journal. Faculty felt
that educational psychology journals were alienating and that rigorous
research articles free of jargon were needed. Participants suggested
attempting publication in higher profile journals such as Science
and Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences. To do
so, the research needs to be rigorous in terms of methodology and
address “why” questions about understanding rather than
descriptions of “how to” do something in a classroom
without supporting data.
learning: A few participants were concerned about conveying
all of the content when using active learning methods. To make their
point, they used the possible failure of problem-based learning
in medical school. No supporting data was offered to confirm this
claim. In response, data show that students who engage in active
learning have performed equally well as students in lecture based
courses on standardized tests. Some participants were concerned
that a learner-centered environment would turn students off to biology.
However, evidence suggests that students have already been turned
off to science in high school. Active learning has the potential
to re-engage students in science. As faculty we teach the teachers
and directly or indirectly influence how science is taught in K-12
felt that the physical sciences had done much better than biologists
in applying active learning. Again, no evidence was given to support
this claim. There is a tendency in biology classes to focus on covering
content instead of focusing on key concepts and uncovering misunderstandings.
The issue of agreeing on which important concepts should be taught
is ongoing, and faculty in many institutions are achieving consensus
toward that end.
Participants felt one difficulty in dissemination of active learning
is getting graduate students and their major advisors to include
teaching as an element of their professional mentoring. Most graduate
students don’t feel they have the time for classes on teaching.
Participants also felt that faculty were reluctant to change, even
when given materials and presented with evidence of its effectiveness.
Faculty can play an important role in disseminating effective teaching
practices. They can, for example, schedule speakers to address issues
of teaching and learning in the regular departmental seminar series
and as plenary speakers at conferences.
Participants felt that rewards (tenure and promotion) are driven
by money and that education has become corporate. However, things
are changing, as evidenced by a survey of faculty at the University
of Minnesota. When the faculty were when asked if they were rewarded
for “excellence in teaching” at a level comparable to
“excellence in research,” the responses were centered
between “agree” and “neutral” rather than
at “disagree” typical for this and other seminars given
throughout the country.
need long-term professional development in assessment and research
need to understand how to disseminate their findings about student
learning within their professional publications.
need to develop goals and objectives for their courses and curricula
that can be assessed in multiple ways.
need to become familiar with and understand the literature (and
critical theories) about how people learn.
should form long-term networks and/or support groups (i.e. lab
groups) to maintain, implement and advance discussion and implementation
of changes in teaching intended to create active learning environments
for all students.
- The Reinvention
Center can provide assistance here.
PowerPoint presentation given during this workshop as well as other
workshops given by Dr. Ebert-May is available at www.first2.org
look under resources/workshop materials.
D, Brewer CA, Allred S. 1997. Innovation in large lectures --
teaching for active learning. Bioscience 47(9):601-607.
- Hake R.
2002. Lessons from the physics education reform effort. Conservation
Johnson DW, Johnson RT, Smith KA. 1998. Cooperative Learning Returns
to College: What Evidence Is There That It Works? Change
in Ecology and the Environment, (Pathways to Scientific Teaching,