Transfer of knowledge learned seen as a key to improving science education

Attendees of a workshop at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science will be immersed into "active learning," an approach inspired by national reports targeting U.S. science education, in general, and, more specifically, the 60 percent dropout rate of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

"The goal of this session is to take many ideas around improving education that are out there and make them applicable to the classroom," says Eleanor "Elly" V.H. Vandegrift, associate director of the University of Oregon's Science Literacy Program and workshop co-organizer. "My hope is that anybody who comes to this workshop will find something that they can take home and use immediately in the classroom."

The three-hour session, "Thinking Skills for the 21st Century: Teaching for Transfer," will focus on how science students learn material, but, more importantly, how well they transfer the concepts they've learned into their next class—in the same or a different discipline—or into their jobs. Interested faculty who attend the session will be updated on instructional approaches that help nurture such transfer, and they will spend time engaged in individual and small group activities.

Transfer starts with good teaching, says Vandegrift, whose UO program is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "I think what happens a lot of times in traditional classrooms is that when students sit and just listen to a lecture, they are not processing the information."

The impetus for the workshop emerged from three reports: "Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century," produced by the National Research Council and published in 2012 as a book by the National Academy of Sciences; "Engage to Excel" (2012) by the President's Council on Advisors in Science and Technology to improve both K-12 and undergraduate college education; and 2011's "Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education, A Call to Action," that emerged from a National Science Foundation-supported conference organized by AAAS. (Links to the three reports are provided below.)

Each of four presenters will provide brief remarks built around activities designed to engage the attendees. Vandegrift will discuss the development of learning outcomes and objectives that can be measured. Her hands-on work sample will be a large poster that participants will study and apply Post-it notes to show how their own ideas may relate to other people's ideas.

Vandegrift's portion follow the session-opener by Amy B. Mulnix, a cell biologist at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., on her implementation of active learning after realizing that her students were not learning as expected. Mulnix will detail her experience and address what teaching for transfer really means.

Following Vandegrift will be physicist S. Raj Chaudhury, associate director of the Biggio Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning at Auburn University, and Jennifer R. Yates, a neuroscientist at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Chaudhury's portion of the workshop will focus on new ways to use clicker technology to help students apply principles learned in the classroom to new situations. Yates will present a case study of an effort that went awry in a group situation as part her focus on "Creating Opportunities for Practice-with-Feedback."

"Research has shown that students retain information longer if they have opportunities to practice with it," Vandegrift said. "This what I mean about transfer. There are many ways a faculty member can give students an opportunity to practice with the content. The ideas of how people learn are applicable across disciplines. The focus right now is on science."

More information: Relevant links:

UO Science Literacy Program:
About Vandegrift:
About Mulnix: … ername=amymul&r=3353
About Chaudhury and the Biggio Center:
About Yates:
Report, Education for Life and Work:
Engage to Excel: … fact_sheet_final.pdf
Vision and Change:

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