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The Science Education Initiative

The CU Science Education Initiative (SEI) aims to achieve highly effective, evidence-based science education for post-secondary students by applying the latest advances in pedagogical and organizational excellence. In 2005, the SEI was launched as a 5 million-dollar, university-funded project to support departments in improving science education. The project was spearheaded by Dr. Carl Wieman, who also started a sister program in 2007 at University of British Columbia (CWSEI). The SEI works at the departmental level to achieve sustained improvement in learning, based around three core activities: (1) establish what students should learn (create meaningful learning goals), (2) determine what students are actually learning, and (3) improve student learning.

The SEI activities at CU are currently coming to a close.  To participate, departments applied for support through a competitive proposal process. These proposals described departmental-wide plans for addressing the three core components listed above. On the basis of these proposals, a total of 7 departments were provided with substantial support over 5-6 years. Departments had wide latitude in the use of funds, but mostly used funds to hire junior staff members, called Science Teaching Fellows (STFs). STFs are hired as a member of department, and engage in a wide variety of activities to organize, facilitate, and enable the department faculty to achieve the changes set forth in their department’s proposal to the SEI.

The 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. STFs have typically earned a recent PhD in the discipline, and are interested in a discipline-based, education-focused post-doctoral experience. With their PhD level content-expertise, the STFs can meaningfully engage in content-specific work with the faculty – such as discussing learning goals, creating homework, and designing assessment items. To complement disciplinary expertise, the SEI Central project team provides training and advice to new STFs, and coordinates regular meetings of the STFs, creating a community of STFs engaged in similar work within their respective departments. 

The CU-SEI program has had a broad array of impacts. Across the program as a whole, over 100 faculty have been impacted by the SEI, with over 90 having modified their instruction based on the SEI efforts.  Over 50 faculty have taught a course with the support of an STF, and over 70 faculty have used or developed learning goals. After 7 years, the SEI project has impacted over 50 undergraduate courses, with STFs working very closely with faculty on over 25 of these courses. Due to the SEI efforts, several departments are now defining more clearly what students should learn in their courses, and measuring how well these goals are being met. The impact on individual faculty and courses, in this way, can translate to larger changes across the department itself.  Finally, the science teaching fellows themselves benefit from the program, enabling them to transition into a career in discipline-based education research or science education reform through the expertise they gain and the body of published work they generate.