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Unformatted text preview: R ichard McCray says he feels like Oprah Winfrey,running up and down the lecture hall with a microphone, mediating student discussion. A professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, McCray began turning his introductory astronomy course inside out three years ago. Rather than lecturing to 200-plus stu- dents at a time, McCray divides them into ‘cooperative learning teams’ofabout a dozen people, throws problems at them over the Internet, and then uses the lecture hall to discuss their various solutions. He did not innovate for the sake of it — he was deeply worried about the poor teaching perfor- mance ofAmerica’s leading research univer- sities. “We’re losing talented people; we’re driving students away,”he says.“They don’t like these large lecture courses.” Although educational institutions in many countries are struggling with similar issues, US research universities face a par- ticularly tough problem in matching their spet interests to the demands of society. A typical introductory science class consists of a couple ofhundred students,most ofwhom have no plans to continue with the subject,nor a great deal ofprior knowledge.But in a world that increasingly depends on science and technology, it is more important than ever that these students learn the scientific basics. And that makes McCray’s bleak assessment of the teaching failure ofUS research universities a matter ofgenuine social concern. Some science professors are now trying to put new spins on their old curricula — using interactive computer technology, for instance, and employing various tactics to get students to discuss their ideas. Others, with an eye on the future,are trying to turn today’s science undergraduates into tomor- row’s high-school teachers (see ‘Those who teach,learn’,overleaf).And a handful ofedu- cational innovators are applying the scien- tific method to their teaching experiments, testing new methods to determine whether they bring about improvements in learning. Transforming the traditional learning environment is tough,particularly in a system where teaching excellence is not generally rewarded with career advancement. What’s more, some education experts argue that the scientists who are now developing an interest in the subject are ignoring prior research,and are in danger ofreinventing the wheel. But everyone agrees that the standard ‘lec- ture-then-test’format is failing — particularly where lectures are delivered to huge numbers of students at a time. Evidence of this failure is provided by assessments such as the Force Concept Inventory (FCI), a multiple-choice test designed to examine students’ under- standing of Newton’s laws of mechanics....
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This note was uploaded on 03/31/2010 for the course CHEM 100/Ph taught by Professor Lynn during the Spring '09 term at Berkeley.
- Spring '09