University of Colorado at Boulder
How would you assess the transferability of the re-design approach you employed to new subject areas or disciplines?
The techniques have broad applicability among disciplines for large introductory courses. They are not specific to astronomy. The software for interactive learning is certainly transferable, and we will give it to anybody who wants to use it. The new Java-based homework modules that we are developing will be very valuable to the community. The use of undergraduate TAs is a tremendous resource that will work for many disciplines. Such transfer has already happened in the Physics Department at the University of Colorado, which is planning to adopt this model.
How are you disseminating the re-design among your colleagues?
I haven't put a big effort into dissemination yet, except to invite my colleagues to attend my classes. Four have done so. The four faculty members who attended my classes were very favorably impressed with the high level of student involvement. One faculty member attended regularly and spent a lot of time discussing the project with me, and he is teaching another section of the same course in spring 2001. He is incorporating some (but not all) aspects of the redesigned format into his teaching, and he is working with me to develop interactive on-line homework.
There is a high level of interest among other instructors in my Department in teaching the course in the redesigned format. Several of my colleagues in my department are planning to use parts or all of the resources and approaches I have developed in teaching this course. Therefore, I am deliberately planning not to teach this course in AY 2001-2. Instead, I intend to identify colleagues in my department who are willing to offer the course in the re-designed format and then to devote my efforts to supporting them. Specifically, I'll provide them with all the resources we have developed, plus additional financial resources. I'll work intensively with them to continue to develop the course. This activity is picking up and will be a major emphasis of the project in 2001.
We are devoting increasing effort to documenting our progress and disseminating the results externally. In July 2000, I described the results of our pilot project at a special meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific devoted to education. In August 2000 I conducted a small workshop in Boulder in August 2000 that was attended by several astronomers who have demonstrated national leadership in using informational technology for introductory courses.
In the immediate future, we're going to devote some effort to making more details of the redesigned course format available to the world through our course web site. We'll post the assessment data and a description of lessons learned there. Also, the University Center for Teaching and Learning Assessment has videotaped meetings of our redesigned courses (both the large lecture sections and the learning teams), and we intend to post clips from these videos on our web site so that people can get a sense of the class in action. Later this year, when the detailed results from our assessment team are available, we'll publish a description of the project in an appropriate journal. We also plan to present the results of our project at a few more national meetings during 2001.
As a result of this project, we have begun thinking about a new paradigm for training and recruiting K-12 science teachers. It is well documented that K-12 science education in the US is largely dysfunctional, and that one of the main reasons is the dearth of talented people who choose careers in science education. We think that our experience with this project has provided us with some insights and opportunities by which we can make an impact on this problem.
There are two major ingredients to our strategy. First is our experience with undergraduate TAs. We have found that our undergraduate TAs have had a tremendous educational experience, so that several of them are now interested in pursuing careers in education. They are very talented. We have arranged with the School of Education for them to earn course credit for a seminar in education based on their work in this course. Second, we have developed a partnership with Sun Microsystems, who have a major Division, Sun Enterprise Services, located about 15 minutes drive from the CU-Boulder Campus. Sun is interested in expanding markets for its products both in Universities and in K-12 school systems. They are very interested in our project, and have provided deep discounts for computer equipment to support our project. Now, in partnership with Sun and some local school districts, we have submitted a pre-proposal to the National Science Foundation for a Center for Learning and Teaching for a five-year grant of approximately $10 million.
Our goals are to develop an infrastructure to train K-12 teachers who have skills in the use of Information Technology for science teaching, and to do research to understand best practices in using such technology. Sun has committed to support traineeships and internships through this program that will provide financial incentives for undergraduates to pursue careers in science education. We will use the undergraduate TA experience in introductory science courses as a mechanism to attract talented students to such careers. We will build a cadre of faculty with joint appointments in science research departments and the School of Education who will lead this effort. We believe that such a program will enable us simultaneously to continue developing and propagating the undergraduate course redesign concept to other science departments and to attract and train a new generation of educators who will become leaders in the use of information technology to improve K-12 science education.
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