Friday, September 13, 2013

Carl Wieman Lectures at the Cowan Center

On Thursday, September 5th in the Cowan Center, Dr. Carl Wieman visited the UT Tyler campus at the Cowan Center, the first of four in the Cowan Center Distinguished Lecture Series for the school year.  As I discussed previously on this blog, Dr.Carl Wieman won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1995 for his work with the Bose-Einstein condensate, and has since been heavily involved with improving science education in the high school and collegiate levels.

His lecture on Thursday, titled, “How advances in research on learning can dramatically improve science and engineering education", discussed how using “peer instruction” can innovate the instruction of science, math, technology, and engineering (STEM) for high schools and universities.  “Peer instruction” is a pedagogical system originally created by Eric Mazur, in which teachers repeatedly ask multiple-choice questions to a class, and students rely on group discussions to find a collective response.  Wieman discusses that this practice in classrooms allows students to better analyze given questions and scenarios, rather than rely on teacher walkthroughs to understand solutions.  This is a popular standpoint amongst educators, as they wish to move away from the banking method of education, and move toward a collective thought process for better understanding of a given topic.

While the lecture primarily targets STEM classrooms, I was curious as to how this teaching method applies to classrooms with liberal arts topics, such as Political Science, Communication, Journalism, etc.  While the peer instruction method works successfully in technical classrooms, students in liberal arts classes often utilize the banking method to acquire a set amount of information, while avoiding the injection of ideologies in the discussion that may hinder progress in the classroom.  This is a common criticism of class discussions during lectures; it is challenging to teach subjects that are prone to a negative response from someone who holds a conflicting ideology toward the topic.  This is a criticism that Dr. Wieman is working toward solving for these classrooms, so his method of peer instruction can be more applicable to liberal arts classes.

Remember, Dr. Wieman was the first of four lectures that will happen during the school year.  Soon to follow are Katie Couric, Charles Krauthammer, and Robert Edsel.  Check out the Cowan Center website for ticket and date information. Do not miss a great educational opportunity at UT Tyler! 

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