Frequently Asked Questions

What Does the CWSEI do?

The Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative provides substantial support to science departments to evaluate all of their undergraduate courses and pursue opportunities to improve educational outcomes. The focus will be on achieving sustained departmental-wide change, and will rely on the use of relevant science education research results and technology to achieve these goals.

When did this start?

The CWSEI officially started at UBC in January 2007.

Which departments are involved?

All of the departments in the UBC Faculty of Science are involved; some have large programs that cover the majority of their undergraduate program and others have smaller programs focusing on specific subsets. See the Departments tab for details of the past and current activity.

Aren't there already programs in place to do this, such as Skylight? How is the CWSEI different?

The CWSEI has the same general goal of improving undergraduate education as a number of programs already in place, but each has its own particular focus. The focus of the CWSEI is to provide substantial concentrated resources to achieve departmental-wide sustained change.

Where is the funding coming from?

The funding comes from private donations and the Provost's office.

Why did Carl Wieman choose UBC?

The evidence of dedication at all levels to providing the best education possible for students, including a decisive Board commitment, strong backing by the senior management, and an enthusiastic and dedicated faculty.

Is this implying our science faculty don't know how, or are not willing, to teach?

Just the opposite. It was the pool of talented and dedicated faculty that convinced the UBC administration and Carl Wieman that this was the right time and place to launch this initiative. Just as science itself has made dramatic progress in the past decades, research in science education has achieved similar advances, as have technologies that support science education. However, it is unreasonable for busy research-active science faculty members to stay current on all these developments and incorporate these new advances into their teaching, without additional support. The CWSEI will provide the support needed to make this possible.

What process was used to select departments?

Carl Wieman met with each science department in September 2006 to discuss the CWSEI. Following those meetings and incorporating the input they provided, there was a call for brief proposals from the science departments. On the basis of those proposals, two programs were selected for full support and several departments were selected to receive seed funding. Another call for proposals was issued in Summer 2007. More details are given in the Funding section.

What criteria is used to rank departmental proposals?

The general criteria is the probability of success for achieving the goal of sustained departmental-wide change resulting in substantially improved science education for all undergraduates.

How is this money used?

The individual departments will decide that within some broad guidelines. Hiring science education specialists to work with faculty members has been a popular model among departments at the University of Colorado SEI which is partnering with the CWSEI. These specialists typically have a Masters or Ph.D in the specific departmental discipline and are given guidance by SEI staff on relevant science education methodology and research. Many of the departments involved with UBC's CWSEI have decided to hire science education specialists and have chosen the title "Science Teaching & Learning Fellow" (STLF).

What is a Science Teaching & Learning Fellow (STLF), and what do they do?

A Science Teaching & Learning Fellow (STLF) has a combined expertise in the specific departmental discipline as well as knowledge in relevant science education methodology and research. As knowledge transfer agents, they have a unique ability in assisting faculty members to implement the evidence-based education improvement model. A similar approach at the University of Colorado SEI has shown that STLFs are highly successful at introducing faculty members to new approaches to teaching and assessment of learning, and implementing sustainable educational improvements. The CWSEI central staff will work closely with the STLFs, providing guidance and advice based on cognitive science and science education research, and establishing a community of science education specialists. During their terms, the STLFs will also be responsible for establishing and maintaining a web-based resource of all of the educational materials developed and tested, along with assessment results. This will help ensure that educational improvements are sustained The repository will be designed so that it will be easily accessed, shared, and employed by the UBC teaching community and institutions across Canada, as well as around the world.
» read more about Science Teaching & Learning Fellows

Won't this hurt research productivity because faculty will have to spend a lot more time teaching?

A guiding principle of the CWSEI is that educational change will be sustainable only if it does not place additional time burdens on the faculty. A high priority is be placed on creating materials and technology and providing support to save faculty time, particularly time connected with teaching that is not directly enhancing student learning. That said, we have found that some faculty do spend more time on teaching when they use interactive engagement techniques. This is, in part, because they find it more interesting and rewarding, but there are also some factors that add time, such as adding homework to a course that didn't have homework before.

Is there any way I can benefit from the CWSEI or participate in its activities, if I am not in one of the supported departments?

Yes. There are a variety of CWSEI sponsored activities such as workshops, seminars, etc., and instructor guidance available to all. » See the CWSEI resources on the web.

Are students be involved, or is this just for faculty?

There are a variety of ways in which students are involved, including undergraduate and graduate thesis research, short-term projects to evaluate and improve course materials, and creating or improving graduate teaching assistant development programs. Relevant student involvement is encouraged and supported by the CWSEI, but the particulars in most cases are decided at the departmental level.