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Barak Obama’s Advisor Indirectly Helping UC Students Enjoy L

Barak Obama’s Advisor Indirectly Helping UC Students Enjoy Lectures More

March 5, 2013

Barak Obama’s science advisor, Dr Carl Wieman, is indirectly helping University of Canterbury (UC) students enjoy their lectures more.

Dr Wieman, a Nobel Prize winner, previously worked with UC geology lecturer Dr Ben Kennedy at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Dr Kennedy has, for the first time, brought some of Dr Wieman’s solutions to the traditional lecture format. Dr Kennedy said science education research showed that a traditional, stand-and-deliver lecture format is less effective for students than teaching strategies that are learner-centred and promote active engagement.

``Dr Wieman and I came up with the idea for the New Zealand-based project following his trip to the Beehive in 2009. He suggested to me that New Zealand universities would really benefit from my continuing similar education research and the funding agency Ako Aotearoa agreed,’’ Dr Kennedy said.

He teamed up with UC academic developer Dr Erik Brogt and education expert Dr Billy O'Steen in a two-year project to put some of the ideas into practice in UC geology lectures.

With a grant from Ako Aotearoa, the national centre for tertiary teaching excellence, the team encouraged students to interact with other students and the lecturer to solve problems during lectures.

``They responded to questions using digital devices called clickers. Lectures are focussed around helping students to achieve goals or specific learning outcomes.

``We measured student attitudes and learning in traditional courses and compared them to courses with interactive Wieman- style activities. Despite the already unusually high levels of learning in the geology department at UC, significant improvements could be seen.

``We had students telling us it was more challenging, more engaging and they actually had to think and process issues. They began processing that information as they learned it rather than just putting it all in the notes and forgetting.’’

Nobel laureate Dr Wieman has used the research in Canada to develop resources to improve learning in university science courses.

The UC pilot project used perception and concept surveys before and after undergraduate science courses to measure students’ attitudes towards science, as well as their knowledge.

The research team used these data, complemented with classroom observations of student engagement and student focus group interviews, to work with lecturers to create interventions to enhance student engagement and learning.

Dr Kennedy said the results showed several positive changes relating to the interventions and they suggested several recommendations for lecturers and course coordinators.

The recommendations included making learning outcomes clear, both for the lecturer and the students. They suggested using interactive activities to improve engagement, develop deeper levels of thinking and improve learning.


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