Research Interests

My scholarly activity centers on education itself. Since early in my career I have been concerned with the low effectiveness of the traditional lecture method for aiding students' learning. Thus, for the last twenty years I have concentrated my efforts on developing and evaluating teaching methods that foster higher-level thinking abilities.

One of the products of this work is a freshman chemistry lab manual, Inquiries into Chemistry, whose approach requires students to find patterns in data and explain them. Set answers are not available; students must do their own thinking. In many experiments the students are also required to design their own experiments and redesign them as data comes in. This manual, that has been used in colleges across the country for almost two decades, puts the freshmen into a quasi-research mode in the lab. It does work. Students are mentally active in lab and are excited by their experience. It is also a kick to teach because of the involved logical arguments one can get into with students.

Another product is what we call our EPICS Program at CSM. In these courses we put freshmen and sophomores in small teams, give them a real-world problem for an outside agency and have them work on that problem for an entire semester. Problems range from "what should city X do about the nitrate levels in its ground water?" to "design an articulated lift for buses to assist handicapped persons". In these courses, students from all departments are mixed together in teams and the teaching faculty come from all departments. The experience strengthens students abilities in areas that traditional courses cannot: decision making, use of evidence, teamwork, self-education, complex communications, dealing with values and ethics.

In all such developmental work, it is essential that thoughtful measurement be made on the advantages to the student of the new teaching approach. This is the research side of educational innovation. In both examples above, extensive testing was done to establish the value of the approach. Such data can be seen in the journal articles cited below.

Graduate Students

Although the educational research I do would be legitimate for graduate study, this school does not offer degrees in science education. Therefore I do not direct graduate research. I do, however, work closely with our TA's on their teaching, especially on the interactive skills needed for one-on-one teaching. If you elect to come to CSM for your graduate studies, I invite you to apply for a teaching assistantship for a year or two. We will help you learn some of the fundamentals of effective teaching and give you a rewarding teaching experience.

Selected Publications