Carl Wieman Speaks on Improving Student Learning through Research-Based Teaching

On August 22, Carl Wieman (Department of Physics and Graduate School of Education, Stanford University; White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, 2010-2012; Nobel Laureate in Physics) delivered a talk “Taking a Scientific Approach to Science and Engineering Education,” on research-based approaches to education, to a full house of 225 Washington University faculty, post-docs, and graduate students, as well as faculty from the St. Louis region. Wieman was introduced by Provost Holden Thorp.

Please click this link to see Carl Wieman’s Presentation Slides from this event.

Click here to view a video-recording of the event.

Wieman opened his talk with the recollection of being struck in his early years of teaching by the gap between graduate students’ success in coursework, yet their initial “clueless[ness] about how to do physics.” He began looking for patterns of how students develop into experts, and soon brought his research skills to the question of how to cultivate expert thinking.

Drawing upon insights from university classroom studies, brain research, and cognitive psychology, he identified five key areas for developing expertise: 1) Motivation, 2) Connections to prior knowledge and thought; 3) Application of what is known about how memory works; 4) Explicit authentic practice of expert thinking; 5) Timely and specific feedback on these practices of thinking in the discipline.

Wieman’s talk focused on points 4 and 5, and included outcomes of his approach, with impressive results of increased attendance (from 50-60% to ~95%), equal to or greater coverage of course content (a common concern for faculty when integrating more active-learning approaches), and positive experiences reported by students and faculty alike.

This talk marks the beginning of a new initiative at Washington University: the Transformational Initiative for Education in STEM (TIES) aims to support STEM faculty as they transform courses by integrating evidence-based teaching methods. Faculty and departments, beginning with the Department of Biology and the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, will be supported by TIES Fellows, who will serve as “embedded experts” in evidence-based teaching, and the TIES program team as they transform their courses and curricula. TIES is supported by The Office of the Provost.

To find out more, please see our page on this new initiative. Feel free to contact TIES Project Manager, Erin Solomon, with any questions.