New Faculty Workshops Will Focus on Improvement of Student Learning in Science Disciplines

​At CIC’s 2016 Institute for Chief Academic Officers, Stanford University physicist and Nobel laureate Carl E. Wieman energized a plenary audience with his findings on the use of active learning in the teaching of science to undergraduates. With the generous support of the W. M. Keck Foundation, CIC is offering a new program, Seminars on Science Pedagogy, that makes the fruits of Wieman’s cognitive research available to science faculty members from 18 CIC member institutions. To take place in summer 2019 and 2020, the seminars aim to improve teaching effectiveness and student learning in biology, chemistry, and physics courses.

Wieman and his collaborators at Stanford University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Colorado at Boulder promote active learning methods based on cognitive and neurological science research. He and many other STEM teachers and education researchers have used these specially developed methods and new evaluation tools with proven success for years. This new seminar, however, will mark the first systematic attempt to promote this powerful pedagogy among faculty members at smaller independent colleges and universities. “Colleges and universities must offer incentives and support for faculty to adopt new, more effective methods of teaching and of evaluating teaching and student learning, and to ensure those improvements persist,” emphasized Wieman.

View of Holy Names University campus from a hill
CIC’s first Seminar on Science Pedagogy will be held on the campus of Holy Names University in Oakland, CA, July 15–19, 2019.

Despite the trend away from traditional lectures toward more effective active learning methods—in the sciences as in other fields—research indicates that the lecture is still the default mode for many faculty members, even at smaller institutions. CIC President Richard Ekman commented, “We must acknowledge that proven methods exist that far exceed the effectiveness of lectures to educate students in STEM fields. The ability to think like a scientist is critical for all students, not just those who will major in STEM or plan to pursue an advanced degree. Systematic change is needed to create the science-literate population needed to understand research-based science policy, which affects all aspects of today’s society. Colleges and universities must adopt incentives and rewards for faculty members who use evidence-based instruction methods. Smaller institutions are nimble enough to make these changes quickly with sufficient motivation.”

CIC will select nine institutions to participate in each seminar through a competitive application process. Each institution is expected to support a team of four faculty members from no more than two disciplines (biology, chemistry, or physics), including at least one department or division chair or dean. The team will receive intensive training that will prepare them to implement research-based active learning methods in introductory courses in their departments when they return to campus.

The first seminar will take place July 15–19, 2019, at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. Application packets for the workshop are due May 16, 2018. The facilitators for the first seminar are Warren Code, faculty of science and associate director of the Science Skylight Centre for Learning and Teaching, University of British Columbia; Georg Rieger, professor of physics and director of the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative for the department of physics and astronomy, University of British Columbia; and Michelle Smith, associate professor of biological sciences, University of Maine. All three facilitators have extensive experience with the methods and materials to be developed in the seminar and have been trained by Wieman. After the seminar, the facilitators will offer webinars for the group, as well as conference calls and a site visit for each institution.

The effective teaching of science is now a national priority. Employers are eager to hire individuals who have knowledge of one or more STEM disciplines, and colleges and universities increasingly recognize that all college graduates should obtain a better working knowledge of science as part of their general education. A 2017 report by the Association of American Universities (AAU) on undergraduate science, Progress Toward Achieving Systemic Change: A Five-Year Status Report on the AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative, makes an excellent case for more attention to improvements in teaching science and outlines ways for research universities to proceed.

Smaller colleges and universities have long been recognized for the high percentages of their science majors who complete their degrees, obtain advanced degrees, and enter STEM careers. That success has been tracked most recently by CIC in Strengthening the STEM Pipeline: The Contributions of Small and Mid-Sized Independent Colleges (2014).

Details about the seminars and application guidelines are on the program page. For more information, contact Kathy Whatley, CIC senior vice president, at