Published: Feb. 24, 2012

Mike Klymkowsky is a professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at CU and Co-Director of CU Boulder’s Science Teacher Preparation and Certification Program (CU Teach).  During his Teaching with Technology presentation, he discussed the current problems facing education and the new tools available to overcome at least some of those issues.

It is increasingly apparent that in the United States, college education must be reformed in order for students to gain the most out of their higher education experience at a reasonable cost. This would require that the university reexamine its instruction and begin to focus more explicitly on student learning.  For this change to be successful, the college must create both a coherent and rigorous curriculum (including course requirements and content) as well as an optimized delivery system (given that learning is an inherently inefficient process).  Finally, the institution needs to seriously assess whether departments’ educational efforts are producing the results, in terms of student learning and competencies, that they claim, or would wish to claim.    The administration could begin to address this issue by explicitly requiring that the departments provide objective evidence that course and curricular design, together with teaching methods, are working.

Based on his own experiences and studies in the area of science education research, Professor Klymkowsky suggests strategies for changing the design of course materials.  One tool that he began using in the Fall of 2011 is Highlighter, which makes web-based materials more interactive.   Using Highlighter as they read,  students  can use their mouse to mark up, comment on,  and respond to questions embedded in the text, as well as respond to the comments left by other students. For an example see:  Not only does this program make it possible to track who is reading and when (e.g. before class), but it also makes it possible  to understand which parts of a text are difficult and which are easy to understand for students.  As a result, the textbook can evolve in response to students’ interactions with it.

The Highlighter program is being used in another project developed by Klymkowsky and Melanie Cooper (Clemson University) and funded by the National Science Foundation.  This project is an introductory chemistry course curriculum.  Chemistry, Life, the Universe and Everything includes a new system, beSocratic, developed in collaboration with Sam Bryfczynski and Melanie Cooper.  beSocratic allows students to answer questions that require them to generate graphs, build structures (including chemical structures), and reflect upon their understanding of key ideas.   Because the system also captures how students interact with the material, it acts as a powerful research tool as it analyzes how students interact with ideas, and what strategies, both effective and ineffective, that they use.

Although the current education system certainly has flaws, it will continue to improve as long as innovative teachers continue to work to objectively evaluate student learning and look for ways to make the classroom experience more engaging and effective for students.