TITLE: Door No. 2 AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 23, 2008 3:41 PM DESC: ----- BODY: My dean recently distributed copies of "Behind Door No. 2: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Science Education", from the 2006 annual report of Research Corporation. It says many of the things we have all heard about revitalizing science education, summarizing some of the challenges and ideas that people have tried. The report speaks in terms of the traditional sciences, but most of what it says applies well to computer science. I don't think I learned all that much new from this report, but it was nice to see s relatively concise summary of these issues. What enjoyed most were some of the examples and quotes from respected science researchers, such as physics Nobel laureate Carl Wiemann. One of the challenges that universities face in re-forming how they teach CS, math, and science is that research faculty are often resistant to changing how they teach or think about their classrooms. (Remember, we material to cover.) These faculty are often tenured full professors who wield significant power in the department over curriculum and program content. At a comprehensive university such as mine, the problem can be accentuated by the fact that even the research faculty teach a full load of undergraduate courses! At the bigger research schools, there are often faculty and instructors who focus almost entirely on undergraduate instruction and especially the courses in the undergraduate core and for non-majors. The research faculty, who may not place too much confidence in "all that educational mumbo-jumbo", don't have as much contact with undergrads and non-majors. I also enjoyed some of the passages that close the article. First, Bruce Alberts suggests that we in the universities worry about the mote in our own eye:
I used to blame all the K-12 people for everything, but I think we [in higher education] need to take a lot of responsibility. ... K-12 teachers who teach science learned it first from science courses in college. You really want to be able to start with school teachers who already understand good science teaching, ...
Leon Lederman points to the central role that science plays in the modern world:
Once upon a time the knowledge of Latin and Greek was essential to being educated, but that's no longer true. Everywhere you look in modern society in the 21st century, science plays a role that's crucial. It's hard to think of any policy decision on the national level that doesn't have some important scientific criteria that should weigh in on the decisions you make.
He probably wasn't thinking of computer science, but when I think such thoughts I surely am. Finally, Dudley Herschbach reminds us that the need for better science education is grounded in more than just the need for economic development. We owe our students and citizens more:
So often the science education issue is put in terms of workforce needs and competitiveness. Of course, that's a factor. But for me it's even more fundamental. How can you have a democracy if you don't have literacy? Without scientific literacy, citizens don't know what to believe.... It is so sad that in the world's richest country, a country that prides itself on being a leader in science and technology, we have a large fraction of the population that might as well live in the 19th, 18th or 17th century. They aren't getting to live in the 21st century except in the superficial way of benefiting from all the gadgets. But they don't have any sense of the human adventure...
That is an interesting stance: much of our population doesn't live in the 21st century, because they don't understand the science that defines their world. Yesterday, I represented our department at a recruitment open house on campus. One mom pulled her high-school senior over to the table where computer science and chemistry stood and asked him, "Have you considered one of these majors?" He said, "I don't like science." Too many students graduate high school feeling that way, and it is a tragedy. It's bad for the future of technology; it's bad for the future of our economy. And they are missing out on the world they live in. I tried to share the thrill, but I don't think I'll see him in class next fall. -----