Any physics professor who thinks that lecturing to first-year students is the best way to teach them about electromagnetic waves can stop reading this item. For everybody else, however, listen up: A new study shows that students learn much better through an active, iterative process that involves working through their misconceptions with fellow students and getting immediate feedback from the instructor.
The research, appearing online today in Science, was conducted by a team at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, in Canada, led by physics Nobelist Carl Wieman. First at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and now at an eponymous science education initiative at UBC, Wieman has devoted the past decade to improving undergraduate science instruction, using methods that draw upon the latest research in cognitive science, neuroscience, and learning theory.
In this study, Wieman trained a postdoc, Louis Deslauriers, and a graduate student, Ellen Schelew, in an educational approach, called “deliberate practice,” that asks students to think like scientists and puzzle out problems during class. For 1 week, Deslauriers and Schelew took over one section of an introductory physics course for engineering majors, which met three times for 1 hour. A tenured physics professor continued to teach another large section using the standard lecture format.
A psychologist James Stigler criticised some of the methodology but stated: “As a psychologist, I’m ashamed that it is physicists who are leading this effort, and not learning scientists.”