At a lecture crowded with University faculty and students at the Ross School of Business yesterday, Nobel laureate Carl Wieman spoke about improving science and engineering education by moving away from traditional lecturing, and implementing more interactive learning techniques at the collegiate level.

With an economy becoming increasingly based on scientific research, Wieman — who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001 — emphasized the importance of a scientifically literate population, noting that establishing stronger science and engineering programs is crucial to fostering international growth.

“Education is so important in the world,” he said. “(We have) a tremendous opportunity to improve in the state of science education.”

Following several years of teaching and mentoring graduate students, Wieman said he realized his students did not emerge as competent physicists until they had spent at least two to four years in the lab. He added that this insight significantly changed his teaching methodology, and he began to center his classes more on engaging and motivating students with material they had studied before class, rather than transmitting new information.

“There (was) some fundamental underlying reason for this,” he said. “I started approaching teaching and learning just how I approached science.”

Wieman added that students need intensive practice to develop an expertise in their subject.

“You have to go do this for 10,000 hours and you get to world-class expertise and really a different brain,” he said.

He added that this technique has been confirmed by studies that show students learn more effectively when a professor uses quizzes and interactive lecture materials in class.

“Traditional lectures (are) not an effective way to learn,” he said. “We’re not being ineffective in our teaching, we’re being anti-effective.”

Wieman cautioned that the new approach is difficult for many professors to adapt to because they often resist change, and there is little incentive to restructure lessons because many universities focus on research rather than teaching.

Rackham student Mark Reppell said he came to the lecture because he might be interested in teaching in the future, adding that interactive classes have been most helpful in his learning experiences.

“I feel like when you are engaged and you have to actually think during the class period instead of just writing notes mindlessly are actually classes I’ve learned the most in,” he said. “Incorporating that into classes is a good idea, especially in math and science.”

Math Prof. Robert Krasny said he found the lecture interesting, but noted that he already employs Wieman’s recommendations in his own teaching.

“I am encouraged by what he says and inspired, but I think I’m already doing it and I just intend to keep on doing it,” he said.

Krasny said small classes and an incentive for faculty to alter their teaching styles are “absolutely crucial” in improving science and engineering education at the University.

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