Science Reform

Summary of reform: Reforms involve both faculty development efforts and curricular modification. NSF has provided grants for faculty enhancement that have been used to put on workshops that focus on experiential, collaborative, cooperative, active and interdisciplinary teaching. Many of these teaching methods center on collaboration or groups that helps to build community that has been illustrated to enhance learning. There is a specific focus on increasing faculty's abilities to use technology and find an effective balance between teaching and research. Finally, there is an attempt to change faculty culture in order to make new pedagogies and new ways to approach learning more acceptable. Curricular changes focus on a move to a problem solving or problem centered curriculum that is interdisciplinary around themes such as evolution, stability and change. The emphasis on interdisciplinary teaching and curriculum is meant to foster students understanding of connections between various ways of looking at the world through different disciplinary lens. There is an emphasis on examples and process other than simply memorizing facts. A more general move from facts and formulas to the use of and active engagement of material is made.

Level of institutionalization: Science Reforms are discipline specific for most aspects. Some changes such as technology and new forms of pedagogy may involve greater institutional involvement.

Outcomes: Increase the number of students in introductory and general science courses; increase the number of science majors and graduate students entering sciences; address the low number of women and minorities majoring in science.

Process: These initiatives seem to be some of the most comprehensive in terms of process since it involves faculty development, curriculum, changes in student culture, partnerships with K-12, new forms of pedagogy, different ways about thinking about learning. Because of this comprehensive process it provides a model of improvement initiatives encompassing almost all of the other singular reforms.

Description of assessment: Assessment is quite extensive both at the institutional and national level. Funding for the assessment of science reform has come from NSF and the National Research Council who, in association with Alexander Astin conducted a study in 1992 of the impact of college environments on the educational pipeline in the sciences.

Resistances: Some resistance stems from the need for increased resources; faculty need time set aside in order to revamp their curriculum, in addition to extra funding for computers, altered institutional infrastructures to accommodate new facilities and different scheduling requirements for a workshop and research based approach to science. Barriers to this change also include faculty rewards systems that do not encourage the type of pedagogical and curricular changes required. Faculty culture is a major barrier related to collaboration, pedagogy. Barrier to long term change is intermittent funding for innovation based on political pressures.

Evolution/History: Over the past 150 years, concern about science and technology in higher education has waxed and waned. The current science reforms have typically evolved mostly out of criticism of science lodged in the 1980's by groups such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The specific criticism focused on high attribution in the sciences, declining numbers of students majoring in science, and low numbers of women majoring in science. In addition, complaints were heard from industry that students were ill equipped for work.


Link to suggested readings: Articles on Science Reform

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