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Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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2
A Primer on the Science of Learning

INTRODUCTION

This chapter provides an overview of efforts to change the emphases and direction of education in the life sciences. The intent is to provide both a context in which to place efforts at education about dual use issues and to summarize what is known about effective teaching and learning strategies in service of developing effective education strategies for dual use issues. While the preponderance of learning science evidence comes from studies on K-12 and undergraduate populations, the fundamentals of how people learn can be applied to graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, faculty, other instructional staff, and technical staff (NRC 2000). The United States played a leading role in the early research and implementation and this is reflected in the literature and examples cited. A number of examples also demonstrate the growing international interest in making fundamental changes in life sciences education.

The New Biology and Education

A collective vision for an integrated and synthetic approach to the life sciences is emerging that offers a rich context for education about dual use issues. A New Biology for the 21st Century, a report of the National Research Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, calls for a problem-based approach to the life sciences that addresses societal issues ranging from human and environmental health to sustainable energy and food production (NRC 2009b; Figure 2-1). The focus on

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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FIGURE 2-1 What is the new biology?

FIGURE 2-1 What is the new biology?

SOURCE: Committee on a New Biology for the 21st Century.

researchers’ responsibilities for the biology underlying pressing societal needs naturally widens the conversation to responsibilities for discerning unanticipated, deleterious consequences. Preparation of life scientists to solve real-world problems requires attention to an integration of the many fields that inform the life sciences and underscores the need for science education informed by the learning sciences (NRC 2000, Labov, Reid, and Yamamoto 2010, Jungck et al. 2010, Brewer and Smith, in press).

Following the publication of several seminal reports (e.g., NRC 1998, 2003a; National Science Foundation (NSF) 1996), undergraduate science education has received sustained attention in the past two decades, although the transformation called for in numerous more recent reports is far from a reality. Echoing the societal relevance of research called for in A New Biology for the 21st Century, the call for action by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education (Brewer and Smith, in press) emphasizes the need for teaching and learning to move from memorization to conceptual knowledge and application and from abstraction to real world relevance. Education about dual use issues, appropriately integrated into undergraduate and graduate curricula, provides a vehicle for engaging students in real world problems of substantial societal importance. For

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

example, students learning about either ribosomes and translation or plant defense mechanisms might explore the mechanism of action of neurotoxin ricin, found in the seeds of the castor bean plant, Ricinus communis, to develop a deeper understanding of basic biology and to grapple with the history of the nefarious use of this lethal substance. Encounters with a range of dual use scenarios throughout a biologist’s education would reinforce the importance of applying problem solving skills to socially relevant issues. Likewise, for students who take only a single life science course before pursuing other educational and career interests, some exposure to dual use issues would also raise awareness of the culture of responsibility and ethics in science that could be informative as they make decisions as citizens and possibly policy makers (e.g., NAE 2009; NRC 2009a,c).

Learning experiences for premedical students and medical students in the United States are being reexamined in light of the Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians, a competency-based blueprint for pre-medical and medical students from the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (AAMC/HHMI 2009) emphasizing skills (competencies), knowledge, values, and attitudes. The explicit inclusion of ethics in that report opens the door for addressing dual use issues. Considering the large percentage of entering college students intent on pursuing a medical career, including materials about dual use issues in curricular revisions guided by the AAMC/HHMI competencies could be both timely and far reaching.

Curricular revision is driven at many levels, ranging from individual instructors to departments, schools of science, and universities, in addition to professional societies and state and national policies. The Academy of Medical Educators, for example, has developed professional standards for medical educators with a goal of informing curriculum development. Similarly, over the past decade the American Psychological Association and ABET, Inc. (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) have established standards for undergraduate education in their disciplines with an emphasis on student learning outcomes.1 Thus, numerous venues and vehicles exist to engage the broader life sciences community in integrating dual use issues into the improvement of life sciences education that is currently underway.

APPROACHES TO EFFECTIVE EDUCATION

The science of human learning has advanced significantly over the last several decades. The convergence of advances in the learning sciences

1

“Learning outcomes” are defined as “specific, measurable learning goals,” and “learning goals” as “what students will know, understand, and be able to do” (Handelsman, Miller, and Pfund 2007:20).

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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with the transformation of the life sciences as a discipline is enabling potentially profound and far reaching changes in science education.

Context for Education Reform

The concept of education reform in the life sciences is not new and clarion calls for reform can be found long before the post-Sputnik drive to improve science education in the 1960s. What is striking in 2010 is the gathering momentum and convergence of efforts to improve education in the life sciences. In the 1990s, a consortium of life science professional societies formed the Coalition for Education in the Life Sciences (CELS) and worked within the context of the disciplinary societies to increase attention to evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning (Liao 1998).

As a result of all of these efforts, biology education research is emerging as a field where researchers with both a deep disciplinary knowledge of the field and expertise in educational research are moving post-secondary life sciences education forward (Bush et al. 2008). Building on and acknowledging the importance of what has been learned to improve undergraduate biology education, over 500 life sciences educators and administrators gathered in Washington, DC, in July 2009 for the AAAS Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education summit, calling for relevant, outcome-oriented, active biology learning focused on deep conceptual understanding in student-centered environments with ongoing feedback and assessment (Woodin, Carter, and Fletcher 2010; Brewer and Smith, in press).

Two current drivers in life sciences education are the growing recognition of the centrality of interdisciplinary approaches and a focus on competences and learning outcomes. A New Biology for the 21st Century is only one of many reports highlighting the substantial role of other disciplines in leveraging life science research and the concomitant need for effective undergraduate education that leads to deep knowledge within the field and fluency in related areas (NRC 2003a, 2007b, 2009b,g). In the context of Figure 2-1, education about dual use issues aligns as an emerging social science application supported by disciplinary learning, which is undergirded by the physical sciences, engineering, mathematics, and learning sciences.

Learning outcomes and competences are beginning to drive undergraduate curriculum development, and in the case of medical education, post-graduate education (AAMC/HHMI 2009). In Europe, for example, the Bologna Process was developed as a means to: (1) facilitate mobility of students and educational staff at European universities, (2) improve career preparation, (3) increase access to high-quality higher education,

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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and (4) develop international consensus on what constitutes high-quality education at the postsecondary level (more information may be found at the Bologna process website www.ond.vlaanderen.be/hogeronderwijs/bologna/about/). Forty-seven European countries, as well as the European Commission, the Council of Europe, and European Center for Higher Education of UNESCO participate in the European Higher Education Area. The basic goals of the process are to arrive at common learning outcomes for students in different college degree programs with input from students, recent graduates, employers, and faculty. The Bologna Process was piloted in the United States through a program called Tuning that involved Utah, Indiana, and Minnesota faculty, students, recent graduates, and employers (Adelman 2009). Biology was one of the degree programs that was “tuned” in the project, and, as in Europe, assessments are being developed to determine whether or not specific competencies or learning outcomes have been achieved. Finding ways to include the competencies essential for responsibly addressing dual use issues among the competencies for undergraduate biology education could be a promising approach to promoting their widespread adoption.

Background on the Science of Learning

Applying relevant findings from the science of learning to curriculum and materials development will enhance the likelihood of achieving desired outcomes. There is strong evidence that “active learning” approaches enhance learning generally (NRC 2000). A critical component of active learning is that the learner, rather than the instructor, is at the center and focus of all activities in the classroom, laboratory, or field. Learner-centered environments are more likely to be collaborative, inquiry-based, and relevant (Brewer and Smith, in press). There is still a place for short, carefully structured lectures, but the instructor becomes primarily a guide providing effective learning materials and expertise as needed. Michael (2006) summarizes several characteristics of active learning processes:

  • Having students engage in some activity that forces them to reflect upon ideas and how they are using those ideas.

  • Requiring students to regularly assess their own degree of understanding and skill at handling concepts or problems in a particular discipline (this process is also called “metacognition” (NRC 2000).

  • Attaining knowledge by participating or contributing.

  • Keeping students mentally, and often physically, active in their

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

learning through activities that involve them in gathering information, thinking, and problem solving.

As this list suggests, there are numerous teaching strategies to support active learning, ranging from in-class problem solving to case studies to learning from original investigations which they design in whole or in part (see http://bioedlinks.com for examples and resources for active learning pedagogies in undergraduate life science classrooms). A number of these strategies are discussed in the next section. The variety of strategies enable active learning approaches that can be implemented in classes of any size, including large introductory courses.

Several findings from the learning sciences can inform education about dual use issues. For example, to be well understood, factual knowledge must be placed in a conceptual framework. Framing learning in the sciences as four intertwined strands of proficiency provides a sound basis for creating effective teaching and learning experiences across all levels of education, including the primary grades (NRC 2007b):

  • Understanding scientific explanations;

  • Generating scientific evidence;

  • Reflecting on scientific knowledge; and

  • Participating productively in science.2

This model emphasizes the integration of learning about process and content in effective instruction. There are many opportunities for learners to engage with conceptual material, while being deeply involved in laboratory work. Thus laboratory work is not an add-on or distraction from content mastery, but rather one of many pathways to both factual knowledge and deeper conceptual understanding (NRC 2005b). Social and ethical responsibility, as well as biological content, can readily be integrated in laboratory learning, whether it is a formal undergraduate laboratory experience or graduate-level research (NRC 2009a; NAE 2009).

Building in time for reflection, as called out in the third strand above, is an essential component of effective approaches to learning. To date, this is the only practice that has been demonstrated to result in the student gains in understanding the nature of science (NRC 2005b, 2008). Reflection involves the opportunity to engage in the exploration of understandings with other learners and a teacher, and in giving students opportunities to become more aware of their own levels of learning.

2

While the report cited, Taking Science to School (NRC 2007b), addresses grades K-8, for example, the principles articulated in that report have direct implications and applications for students at the secondary and postsecondary levels.

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

Numerous studies have demonstrated the value of “metacognition” or self-monitoring in learning. Many teaching and learning strategies engage the learner in metacognitive practice. As discussed below, active learning, properly implemented, encourages metacognition. Given the complexities of the social and ethical dimensions of dual use, it would be important to include various forms of reflection time—ranging from deliberate breaks in lectures that provide such opportunities to exercises that structure and guide reflection—in new curricula.

The importance of engaging learners’ prior understanding as they encounter new material is another key insight from the science of learning (NRC 2000) with implications for education about dual use issues. Understanding is constructed on a foundation of existing conceptual frameworks and experiences. Prior understanding can support further learning. In some cases, however, it can also lead to the development of pre- or misconceptions that may act as barriers to learning. Prior understandings also can be influenced by culture, which has implications for the development of dual use curricular materials for an international audience (NRC 2008).

Conceptual change often requires explicit instruction and takes time. Often a learner is faced with too many disconnected ideas too quickly to be able to take meaning from them and change a previously held conception. And the literature on learning suggests that humans are not adept at making connections between disparate fields or types of knowledge unless they are specifically helped to do so through education (NRC 2000).

Curricular and Materials Development

Curricula can be designed to engage students in key scientific practices: talk and argument, modeling and representation, and learning from investigations (NRC 2008). Starting with learning outcomes is the first step in curriculum design, as illustrated by the following set of design principles for curricula that include laboratory learning experiences:

  • Begin with clear learning outcomes in mind.

  • Thoughtfully sequence laboratory learning in the flow of classroom science instruction.

  • Integrate learning of science content with learning about the processes of science.

  • Incorporate ongoing student reflection and discussion (NRC 2005b).

Efforts to shape learning outcomes also provide opportunities to incorporate aspects of social responsibility.

Learning outcomes inform instructional and also assessment strate-

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

gies, both of which are most useful when considered and integrated into curriculum development at the outset. Assessment can be both formative and summative. Formative assessment occurs during the learning process, providing feedback for the teacher and learner on learning progress. Approaches to formative assessment include a variety of methods to provide quick feedback, such as:

  • “minute papers” where students write a response to an instructor query about a confusing point or concept;

  • the use of “clicker” devices so that individual responses to a problem become the collective judgment of the learners and visible to both the instructor and the students (NRC 2003b);3 and

  • online feedback, which is now available in many course management tools.

With online feedback, for example, a student selects an answer to a problem and immediately receives information about the accuracy of the response (see http://www.biology.arizona.edu/mendelian_genetics/mendelian_genetics.html). A highly developed version of this type of feedback would operate like an intelligent tutor. Adjustments can be made in response to formative assessment, with the resulting iterative process enhancing knowledge attainment and the formation of a meaningful conceptual framework for the learner. Formative assessments typically are not graded by the instructor; instead, students may be awarded points for completing them. Formative assessments can also serve as a means for helping students learn about the benefits and uses of peer review (NRC 2003b).

Summative assessment, conducted at the end of a learning and teaching experience, provides information to students about their learning gains and to faculty and programs about the overall success of the effort and can be used to inform later implementation of the curriculum. Concept inventories, critical thinking rubrics, and curriculum-specific, pre- and posttests are examples of summative assessment tools.

Without assessment that is closely aligned to learning outcomes, it is difficult to gather evidence about the effectiveness of curriculum. For example, if the desired outcome is critical thinking, assessment that is limited only to measuring students’ content knowledge would not provide sufficient information about whether the goal had been attained and the instructional emphasis geared to developing critical thinking was effective.

Higher-order thinking, including critical thinking, problem solving,

3

For evidence on clickers, see Wood (2004) and Caldwell (2007).

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

synthesis, and transfer, the goals of many educational efforts, are certainly desirable skills for those who will potentially face dual use issues. Transfer, for example, is demonstrated when a learner can apply what he or she has learned to a new problem. Including multiple opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students, and researchers to apply what they have learned about dual use across several settings, courses or laboratory experiences could help foster this capacity for transfer.

Less is known about ethical development than about science learning in college-age students and other young adults. In an early and still influential study of intellectual and ethical development among college students, William Perry (1970) described a series of phases through which young adults move, beginning with “dualism/received knowledge,” in which there is a clear right or wrong. “Multiplicity/subjective knowledge” follows with the stance that everyone has her or his own opinion about an ethical situation. In the third stage, “relativism/procedural knowledge,” the individual relies on disciplinary reasoning methods. An individual who reaches the stage of “commitment/constructed knowledge” can also integrate knowledge from others with personal experience and reflection.

Lee Shulman built on Perry’s work in developing a framework for the integration of ethical and intellectual development (http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/elibrary/making-differences-table-learning). In Shulman’s interpretation of learning, an individual progresses through the following six stages:

  • Engagement and Motivation

  • Knowledge and Understanding

  • Performance and Action

  • Reflection and Critique

  • Judgment and Design

  • Commitment and Identity (2002:37)

Whereas Perry’s model assumes a linear progression through the stages of ethical development, Shulman argues that these stages can be viewed as a web or circle and individuals can move in various pathways through the stages. Shulman’s concepts could be useful in framing learning outcomes for dual use curriculum and associated assessments.

In addition to considering ethical and intellectual development, attention to the learner’s culture and environment is also important for effective curriculum development. As discussed above, prior understandings will affect how an individual interacts with the materials, and learning is enhanced when the learner perceives the relevance of the material. The need for relevance underscores the importance of making materials

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

adaptable to local settings and individual circumstances, for example by providing instructors with a range of suggestions for adapting a common curriculum to their own settings.

Examples of Active Learning Approaches

An example of active, collaborative, hands-on learning with particular relevance to dual use issues is the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition for undergraduates (http://igem.org/). College and university teams use synthetic biology to address a complex problem and enter competitions with their solutions. Students are deeply engaged in actively learning about molecular biology and genetic engineering applications, areas with substantial potential for misuse. Along with the science learning, iGEM provides an ideal setting for education about dual use issues and, as described further in Chapter 4, some initiatives to integrate dual use issues are already under way.

Problem-based learning and case studies provide additional active learning strategies with relevance to dual use education. For example, Gijbels (2008) analyzed the effectiveness of problem-based learning in the context of Barrows’ six core characteristics. The characteristics are (1) student-centered, (2) small-group work, (3) tutor as a guide, (4) authentic, real-world problems, (5) problems as a tool to develop problem solving skills and acquire conceptual understanding, and (6) students acquire new information through self-directed learning (Barrows 1996). These characteristics were developed originally for medical education but since applied across a wide range of disciplines and age levels.4

Gijbels’ metanalysis of the literature indicated cognitive gains from this approach to learning. In addition, attention to the social aspects of learning is essential to success. The group development process requires explicit attention, as many students may be reluctant to invest time in the interpersonal process and to make an effort to deal with differences of opinion. Developing group work skills in problem-based learning would have benefits for learners who may encounter real world dual use issues.

Cases are often used by faculty employing a problem-based method of instruction. A study by the National Center of Case Study Teaching in Science of 101 faculty who used case studies reported that case-based

4

“The primary difference between PBL [problem-based learning] and inquiry-based learning relates to the role of the tutor. In an inquiry-based approach the tutor is both a facilitator of learning (encouraging/expecting higher-order thinking) and a provider of information. In a PBL approach the tutor supports the process and expects learners to make their thinking clear, but the tutor does not provide information related to the problem—that is the responsibility of the learners” (Savery 2006:16).

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

teaching increased students’ ability to consider multiple perspectives (91.3 percent agreed), understand more deeply (90.1 percent), think critically (88.8 percent), make connections (82.6 percent), and address ethical issues (61.3 percent). A review of the case study literature by Lundberg (2008) indicates that cases have particular value in helping students to gain knowledge and understanding of how global, ethical, and societal contexts influence interdisciplinary issues.

Cases do not teach themselves, however, and need to be carefully structured for both the instructor and the learner. Teaching notes for instructors are valuable additions and can provide information about how the case can be adapted to different settings. Learning goals should be clearly stated and should be of a scale appropriate for the specific case. It is important to consider how success or progress toward obtaining the stated goals could be assessed. The length of time and materials needed for the case should be provided.

Cases that involve multiple participants lend themselves to role playing. A key advantage of role playing is that individuals can adopt and argue from a stance without obligation to make their own position known from the start. Evidence supporting the usefulness of cases in developing multiple perspectives comes from a study of a case where students assumed roles as counselors, medical practitioners, and individuals infected with HIV (Foster et al. 2006). In this case, online conferencing tools allowed students to interact internationally, including students in the United States and Zimbabwe who were interviewed in the study.

Connecting to real world problems is an important feature of both case and problem-based strategies and several dual use case studies are already available (see Chapter 3). Writing has also been shown to enhance learning. For example, students who write about how they are going to solve a physics problem (a metacognitive strategy), are more effective in mastering introductory level physics problem solving than those who start with equations.

Making ideas visible through concept mapping or other visualizations is another way to support metacognition. A concept map provides a venue for students to connect their ideas and potentially identify misconceptions. Simplified models that capture core ideas work best.

The active learning strategies described above are a subset of the many approaches now in practice. Froyd (2008) classified these approaches into eight categories and rated them according to the evidence for their ease of implementation and effectiveness in enhancing student learning (Table 2-1). His analysis also draws attention to the question of cost-effectiveness and scaling of different practices, an important consideration for developers of education about dual use issues.

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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TABLE 2-1 Effectiveness of Promising Practices in Undergraduate Education

Promising Practice

Rating with Respect to Implementation Standards

Rating with Respect to Student Performance Standards

1: Prepare a Set of Learning Outcomes

Strong

Good

2: Organize Students in Small Groups

Strong

Strong

3: Organize Students in Learning Communities

Fair

Fair to Good

4: Scenario-based Content Organization

Good to Strong

Good

5: Providing Students Feedback through Systematic Formative Assessment

Strong

Good

6: Designing In-Class Activities to Actively Engage Students

Strong

Strong

7: Undergraduate Research

Strong or Fair

Fair

8: Faculty-Initiated Approaches to Student-Faculty Interactions

Strong

Fair

SOURCE: Adapted from Froyd (2008); scale: fair < good < strong.

Technology-Enabled Learning

Online technologies are making it possible for high-quality curricular materials to be developed and then shared with a broad audience, a particularly promising approach for international curricula if attention is paid to necessary adaptations. Given the overwhelming evidence in support of the effectiveness of active learning, modules that will be technology enabled can be designed to be interactive, keeping in mind the evidence for effective teaching and learning from the learning sciences. Simply reading about dual use issues on a Web page is unlikely to bring about the cognitive and behavioral and performance changes desired. In addition, technology and bandwidth availability need to be carefully considered as target audiences are being developed. For example, in some settings cell phone access is available although Internet connectivity is absent.

Technology provides the opportunity for students and instructors to collaborate on a learning activity internationally, as seen with the HIV case study (Foster et al. 2006). As discussed further in Chapter 4, the social networking tools of Web 2.0 are being increasingly adapted and incor-

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

porated to enable varied forms of discussion and engagement. Problem-based learning has been adapted for technology-enabled learning in a variety of ways. Problem solving in a large-enrollment biochemistry class at the University of New Mexico, for example, has been adapted to an online environment to facilitate discussions (Anderson, Mitchell, and Osgood 2008). Small groups participated in online discussions with discussions monitored by tutors. A tracking system was devised to assess the students’ problem-solving strategies, providing a model for assessment of online, active learning.

Other examples of high-quality, peer-reviewed learning environments that are online are being recognized by the AAAS with the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education (SPORE).5 The interactive work in the geoscience community that blends workshops and online collaborative tools to enhance geoscience education is one model to consider (Manduca et al. 2010). It is also an informative example of a community-wide effort to achieve educational goals. As with case studies, the experience of the geoscience community reinforces the importance of building resources for instructors alongside the teaching materials themselves (see, for example, http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/index.html).

Researchers are currently investigating whether environments that combine and integrate online and face-to-face learning and interactions (also called “blended environments”) are more effective than either approach alone. In one study from higher education settings supported by the U.S. Department of Education, a meta-analysis of 51 studies found that, “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction (Means et al. 2009:ix). The biggest differences were found for those cases of blended learning versus only face-to-face instruction. Because blended learning often involves more time and attention from instructors, however, it is not certain how much of the impact comes from the technology.

Teaching the Teachers/Promoting Professional Development

Developing education modules about dual use issues is unlikely to be effective without parallel professional development for faculty. Further, providing evidence of the effectiveness of active learning pedagogies alone has been demonstrated to be insufficient to change how faculty teach (Henderson, Finkelstein, and Beach 2010). At a local level, university centers for teaching and learning provide opportunities to engage faculty in learning about effective teaching practices and encouraging the implementation of new pedagogies. Many of these programs focus on graduate

5

More information may be found at http://www.sciencemag.org/special/spore/.

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

students and postdoctoral students, as well as faculty, which have been shown to be a particularly effective means of encouraging change. The Preparing Future Faculty program, which ran from 1993 to 2003 in the United States, is one example of a national effort that worked at the local level to provide graduate students and postdoctoral students with the skills and confidence to institute effective teaching practices.6

Many professional societies offer workshops for new faculty, education symposia, education booths, and other venues to raise awareness about effective teaching practices and to provide recognition of individuals who engage in this work. The physics community has a long-standing workshop for new faculty, as does the American Society for Microbiology. As described further in Chapter 4, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the U.S. National Academies have an annual summer institute for faculty from research intensive universities that has been carefully structured to ensure that faculty follow through with new teaching practices after leaving the institute (see http://www.academiessummerinstitute.org/). BioQuest (http://bioquest.org) and SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities—http://sencer.net) are two national initiatives that are focusing on professional development for faculty in the context of enhancing student learning. Project Kaleidoscope’s (PKAL) Faculty for the 21st Century (http://www.pkal.org/activities/F21.cfm) has focused on developing leadership skills in pretenured faculty who are interested in changing undergraduate science education both locally and nationally. Networks of faculty established through professional society workshops allow for ongoing information exchange and support, such as a coalition of scientific and education organizations founded to confront challenges to teaching evolution (Chow and Labov 2008). These are examples of scaling efforts; additional information about these and other efforts to improve undergraduate teaching and learning may be found at http://bioedlinks.com.

Professional life science research societies in the United States already have substantial investment in and commitment to education efforts (Liao 1998). As discussed further in Chapter 4, these are promising venues for

6

“The PFF initiative was launched in 1993 as a partnership between the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). During a decade of grant activity, from 1993-2003, PFF evolved into four distinct program phases, with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Science Foundation, and The Atlantic Philanthropies. During this time, PFF programs were implemented at more than 45 doctoral degree–granting institutions and nearly 300 “partner” institutions in the United States. While the grant periods have expired, the Council of Graduate Schools continues to provide administrative support to existing programs and to those wishing to develop new PFF programs” (Council of Graduate Schools website, http://www.preparing-faculty.org/default.htm#about. Accessed 29 August 2010).

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

raising awareness about education modules for dual use issues while providing the necessary support for faculty to implement these modules.

International Examples of Support for Active, Inquiry-Based Learning

Almost all of the research and real world examples cited above relate to the United States. The move to transform how science is taught is not confined to one country. In addition to the Bologna process, there are efforts in individual countries and institutions around the world to introduce new approaches to teaching and learning about science. At the international level, the conferences of international unions and other professional organizations routinely feature symposia, workshops, or other events that focus on improving education in particular fields or sharing the results of discipline-specific projects. Some of these take the form of specialized workshops. For example, among the programs conducted by the International Brain Research Organization, a global network for neuroscience research, are “Teaching Tools Workshops,” a series intended to provide the framework and the methods for teaching neuroscience in African countries. The third workshop was held in Kenya in September 2010; the materials have a strong focus on learner-centered approaches (Weeks 2008).

Also at the international level, since 2001 the IAP, the Global Network of Academies of Sciences, has carried out a series of activities to promote what it terms “Inquiry-Based Science Education” through a program led by the Chilean Academy of Sciences. Although the focus is on primary and secondary education, as already suggested, the basic approach can be adapted to post-secondary settings. A recent event under this initiative involved a workshop organized in May 2010 by the French Academy of Sciences on “Science and Technology Education in School.” This seminar was intended for trainers and decision makers from educational systems outside Europe who wished to learn about the methods and the tools developed in France. The objective was to help them in the renewal of science education and the implementation of an inquiry-based approach in their classrooms. A workshop on “Transition of the Inquiry-Based Science Education Methodology from Primary to Secondary School” organized in Santiago, Chile, in early 2010 was followed with a conference on the same topic in York, England, in October 2010 under the joint sponsorship of the Chilean Academy of Sciences, ALLEA (the federation of European academies of sciences and humanities), and IANAS (the InterAmerican Network of Academies of Sciences). A condensed handbook, Inquiry-Based Science Education: An Overview for Educationalists, is available in English, French and Spanish and offers educators and authorities, especially min-

Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
×

istries of education, arguments in support of inquiry-based learning. A list of other activities and publications involving academies from all parts of the world may be found at the IAP website (http://www.interacademies.net/CMS/Programmes/3123.aspx).

SUMMARY

The development of education modules about dual use issues will benefit from the application of the science of learning, creative use of online education, and explicit planning to “teach the teachers.” Developing clear learning outcomes for the dual use modules is a first step. This report broadly frames these outcomes, which can be articulated in more specific terms for individual modules. Active learning strategies are more likely to engage the learners and support retention. The real world nature of dual use problems can be effective in engaging students and supporting their learning, if attention is paid to the social learning aspects of group work, as well as the cognitive aspects of learning. Online modules will allow the scaling of the educational effort and active learning strategies and assessment tools can be embedded into the technology-enabled delivery. Here the context of the learner needs to be considered and online modules need to be adaptable in different settings. Finally, explicit planning for faculty development is essential, ranging from including teaching tips in the curricular material to workshops at professional research society meetings.

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Suggested Citation:"2 A Primer on the Science of Learning." National Research Council. 2011. Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12958.
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The Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences workshop was held to engage the life sciences community on the particular security issues related to research with dual use potential. More than 60 participants from almost 30 countries took part and included practicing life scientists, bioethics and biosecurity practitioners, and experts in the design of educational programs.

The workshop sought to identify a baseline about (1) the extent to which dual use issues are currently being included in postsecondary education (undergraduate and postgraduate) in the life sciences; (2) in what contexts that education is occurring (e.g., in formal coursework, informal settings, as stand-alone subjects or part of more general training, and in what fields); and (3) what online educational materials addressing research in the life sciences with dual use potential already exist.

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