Thursday, March 10, 2016

A scientific approach to teaching science and engineering

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Nobel Laureate, Professor Carl Wieman of Stanford University is speaking on "A scientific approach to teaching science and engineering". He argues that science courses should teach how to think like a scientist. This involves subject knowledge, organization frameworks, monitor own thinking and learning, with hours of practice (thousands of hours to become an expert). The student has to reflect on their learning and receive feedback. He suggests teachers need to design practice tasks and timely feedback, but also motivate the student.

Professor Wieman gave an example of an introductory physics class with a pre-class assignment and quiz. The students in class then solve practical problems and answer questions using "clickers".

It was an honor to hear of this first had from a distinguished professor. However, none of this is new and is now part of the training of teachers. I have been trained in thee techniques by the Canberra Institute of Technology for vocational education and several universities for university teaching.

Professor Wieman stressed the value of these techniques for research universities. However, I suggest for this to be effective, those doing the teaching need formal training in how to teach and be given time to design courses. Universities need to treat teaching as an important activity for which formal qualifications are required and to which resources will be committed. It will not work if teaching is something researchers, without teaching qualifications, do in their spare time.

A recent paper on this is Holmes, Wieman, and Bonn (2015).


Holmes, N. G., Wieman, C. E., & Bonn, D. A. (2015). Teaching critical thinking. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(36), 11199-11204. Retrieved from

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