Frequently Asked Questions

What did the CWSEI do?

The Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative provided substantial support to science departments to evaluate all of their undergraduate courses and pursue opportunities to improve educational outcomes. The focus was on achieving sustained departmental-wide change, and relied 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 were involved?

All of the departments in the UBC Faculty of Science were involved; some had larger programs that covered the majority of their undergraduate program and others had smaller programs that focused on specific subsets.

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

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

Where did the funding come from?

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

Why did Carl Wieman choose UBC?

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

Is this implying our science faculty didn't know how, or were 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 it 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 provided 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.

What criteria were used to rank departmental proposals?

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

How was the funding used within departments?

The individual departments decided 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 was 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 under 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 worked closely with STLFs by providing guidance and advice based on cognitive science and science education research and by establishing a community of science education specialists.

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

A guiding principle of the CWSEI was that educational change will be sustainable only if it does not place additional time burdens on the faculty. A high priority was 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 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. Many resources that have been developed from CWSEI activities and sponsored events are publicly available through the resources section of this website.

Were students involved, or was this just for faculty?

There are a variety of ways in which students were 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 was encouraged and supported by the CWSEI, but the particulars in most cases were decided at the departmental level.

How was this related to the SEI at University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder)?

The CU Boulder Science Education Initiative, referred to on this site elsewhere as CU-SEI, was part of a partnership with the CWSEI. The initiatives collaborated to improve science education for post-secondary students.