A thoughtful approach to instruction: Course transformation for the rest of us

by Stephanie Chasteen on April 13, 2011

I keep meaning to write a post about my most recent publication in the Journal of College Science Teaching:  A Thoughtful Approach to Instruction (downloads seem to be free).  The program I’m part of at the University of Colorado is the Science Education Initiative.  Started by Carl Wieman when he got the Nobel Prize for creating a Bose-Einstein Condensate, they gave funding to young folks like me with a PhD in a scientific discipline (physics in my case), to work within science departments to transform courses from the inside out.  This recent publication is a sort of “how to” guide to do what we’ve done — to thoughtfully examine a course, determine what the course is about, and study whether students are actually achieving what we want them to achieve within the course.  The graphic below illustrates our model:

The SEI Model

But of course, it’s tricker than it sounds. How do we figure out what we want students to learn (learning goals)?  What are some techniques for gathering data on a course?  And how does a busy faculty member achieve all this within the normal line of duty?  The article tries to be a practical guide — precise and academic, sure, but honest about the challenges.  It’s tough in the length limit required by the journal, of course.

Here is the abstract:

Faculty often wish to devote time and resources to improve a course to be more in line with principles of how people learn but are not sure of the best path to follow. We present our tested approach to research-based course transformation, including development of learning goals, instructional materials based on student difficulties, and assessment to see whether the approach worked. This method of course transformation has measurably improved student learning in several courses, and we present one such course as a case study—an upper-division physics course. We relied on various support personnel, including undergraduates, to help instigate and maintain the course transformations, and we describe the departmental and institutional factors that are important for successful transformation and sustainability. This model, and the lessons we have learned through its implementation, may serve as a guide for faculty interested in trying a new approach in their own courses.

Here are students working on the tutorials in our upper-division physics course that we transformed:

Download the article here:

A Thoughtful Approach to Instruction :  Course Transformation for the rest of us.  Chasteen, Perkins, Pollock, Beale and Wieman.  JCST, March/April, 2011.

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