The goal of the SEI is to achieve highly effective, evidence-based science education for all post-secondary students by applying the latest advances in pedagogical and organizational excellence.

You can read a detailed account of the SEI approach, and the philosophy of our founder Carl Wieman, in this article in Science Magazine (April 2013): Transformation is Possible if a University Really Cares

There are two aspects to the SEI's "evidence-based" approach:

  • Guiding efforts by the established evidence base (research) on how people learn science and effective pedagogical approaches
  • Obtaining evidence as to the student learning achieved with current and new practices

The SEI supports work at the Departmental level to achieve sustained widespread improvement in learning, based around three core components.

The CU Science Education Initiative is part of a partnership with the Carl Wieman Science Education Inititative (CW-SEI) at the University of British Columbia CU and UBC actively collaborate on their efforts to improve science education on college campuses. Visit CW-SEI at UBC.

SEI Project Outcomes & Reports

Every year, the SEI holds a year-end event, talks on key outcomes from the SEI in the past year, and posters from all Fellows on efforts and results from the year. You can see archived talks and posters from past events on our events page

The SEI also produces yearly reports on outcomes from the project and departments;

You can see all publications from the project on our publications page.

Our science teaching fellows (STF's) have gone on to a variety of careers in science and education, including: Professor, College Instructor, High School Teacher, Academic Advisor, Learning Assistant Coordinator, National Education Coordinator for a professional society, Staff in Continuing Education department, Industrial Scientist, Postdoctoral fellow in Fluid Mechanics and Medical Science Liaison. You can see the career paths of each STF in the "staff" section of individual departments. You can also read more about the STF role and training.

The Three Core Components For Improving Education

1) Establish what students should learn

This means faculty members laying out learning goals for the programs and all the individual courses in operational terms of what students should be able to do if they learned what the departmental faculty would like them to. These goals should include EVERYTHING the faculty hope students to learn, from concepts to vocabulary to specialized skills to habits of the mind, ...

Establishing clear goals informs the design of curriculum, teaching, and evaluation methods.

2) Determine what students are actually learning

Systematically gather data on students' problem-solving ability, conceptual understanding, attitudes, and skills in the areas where faculty members have identified learning goals.

Methods for measuring student learning include:

    • in-depth interviews to reveal student understanding
    • observing problem-solving in the particular course of interest
    • review of suitable research literature
    • surveying current students and alumni
    • analyzing exam results (particularly open-ended questions)
    • using validated assessment instruments, and/or developing new ones to probe all those areas of learning that the department cares about

3) Improving student learning

This is primarily where teaching comes in and is addressing the question of "how do we now move the students from where they are to where they meet the goals we have set?"

Strategies include:

    • adapting proven practices
    • introducing and testing new research-based practices
    • ensuring course sequences and goals are properly aligned to student preparation and capabilities
    • continuously evaluating effectiveness using methods detailed in Step Two
    • Reviewing and revising learning goals as appropriate

Benefitting from Research on Learning and Effective Use of Technology

The three core components of improving education must be built on a solid foundation of research and effective use of technology.

Recent research in cognitive science and science education provides important insight into the teaching and evaluation of learning science. The development and utilization of information technology is also boosting the effectiveness and efficiency of science education (for example, see discussion in BC Campus2020 Wieman think piece). There are numerous examples of how technology has been used to facilitate better learning in a cost-effective manner, and enables more rewarding and efficient use of faculty time through better dissemination and duplication of materials. The use of IT has also enhanced communication to allow better understanding of student progress and difficulties and more effective guidance.

Sustaining Improvement

The SEI aims to assist departments to establish the materials, structures, and systems necessary to ensure the three core components become a permanent and integral part of every regular undergraduate course.

This is a major endeavor with most of the time and effort involved being one-time costs with long term payoffs. It is crucial that the department reaches consensus on goals and assessment and fosters a willingness to jointly create, use, and reuse course material. There must also be organizational structures that support this educational model as a collective responsibility and effort.

Thus the SEI is not about improving teaching per se, it is about changing the basic approach to teaching with the ultimate goal of widespread improvement in learning.

The SEI is funding five science programs at UC Boulder.

How it is Being Implemented

Science departments are selected for support through a competitive proposal process. These proposals lay out their departmental-wide plans for putting in place the three core components listed above. On the basis of these proposals, a subset of the departments are provided with substantial support over 5-6 years. Departments have wide latitude in how they use these funds, but they are primarily choosing to use them to hire junior staff members, the Science Teaching Fellows (STFs) described on the Departments page. The STFs assist faculty members in carrying out educational improvement efforts. These STFs have expertise in the department's scientific discipline and knowledge in relevant science education methodology and research, and are assisted by the SEI central staff.

Former STF's have continued on to a variety of careers in science research, teaching, and educational innovation and research. To find out more about the career paths of STFs, visit the people pages (former STFs are listed on each department). This article also outlines how the SEI fellowship launched one STF on her current career. You can also read more about the STF role and training.

Broad Dissemination Of Materials

An extensive repository of educational materials for numerous courses, including learning goals, assessment tools, diagnostic exams, educational materials and software, has been developed in conjunction with the CWSEI at the University of Brittish Columbia (also headed by Carl Wieman). The majority of these materials will be made universally available online. This will make it far simpler and less expensive to replicate the SEI model at other institutions. It is also expected that, once the success of this approach has been shown through clearly demonstrated gains in learning and improved efficiency, it will spread throughout the sciences and to many other disciplines.

Find our archived course materials on the SEI Course Archive Site and our local Course Archive page.

Benefits to Students

Students, regardless of their major or future career plans, will see how science is interesting and relevant in the modern world. They will develop complex problem-solving skills and know how to learn, rather than simply memorizing facts and plug-and-chug recipes.

Science courses and programs will have clearly articulated educational goals and appropriate assessment tools. Both instructors and students will be able to monitor whether the students are achieving pre-determined goals, and receive timely feedback on their strengths and weaknesses and how to improve.

Students will be guided by instructors with a good understanding of how people learn, common student difficulties with material being taught, and the best approach to overcome such difficulties. The curriculum and teaching methods will be designed and tested to achieve maximum student interest and learning.

Benefits to Faculty Members

Instructors will have access to extensive online materials to help make teaching less time consuming and more engaging and effective.

These materials will include:

  • 1) Departmental consensus on desired educational outcomes for all courses and programs, as well as rigorous assessments of student mastery. This will reduce the spread in incoming student competencies and allow faculty members to assess what their students already know.
  • 2) Resources on effective pedagogical approaches and assessment and use of educational technology, supported by scientific data
  • 3) Guidance on student thinking about the specific material covered in each course, including what enhances student interest and motivation, difficulties students may face, and how to overcome them
  • 4) Extensive instructional materials developed and tested by previous instructors, with guidance on the most effective uses
  • 5) Methods for obtaining ongoing feedback on student thinking and progress, and for providing effective guidance to students to maximize their learning

Benefits to the Community

The purpose of science education is no longer simply to train the small fraction of the population who will become the next generation of scientists. We need a more scientifically literate populace to address the global challenges that humanity now faces and that only science can explain, and possibility mitigate, such as global warming. Additionally, we need a citizenry able to make wise decisions, informed by scientific understanding, about other complex issues such as genetic modification, choice of energy sources, resource extraction, and ecological diversity.

Moreover, the modern economy is largely based on science and technology, and for that economy to thrive and for individuals within it to be successful, we need most citizens to be technically literate and have complex problem-solving skills. By establishing an educational system that produces far more students with these and other abilities such as communication and teamwork, the SEI will benefit local and national industry.

These new purposes require us to make science education more effective and relevant for a large fraction of the entire population. It is particularly important to address the educational needs and aspirations of those members of the community that have traditionally been underrepresented as science learners and scientists. By improving the understanding and appreciation of science for all students, we will also impact students who would become the future K-12 teachers. By providing them with better understanding of science, better models for teaching science, and what it means to learn science, they will be far better equipped to instill understanding and interest in science in the children they teach.

View articles by Wieman on ideas underlying the SEI and CWSEI