Godleski argued that lectures best serve students who are intuitive rather than sensory learners, and a decade later, McDermott, Shaffer, and Somers (1994) found that standard physics lectures do not help most students grasp fundamental concepts. Researchers have also found that when SME&T instructors recognize that student learning strategies vary and modify instruction accordingly, more students are able to learn and master these complex disciplines (Felder, 1993, 1996; Tobias, 1992).
Laboratory sessions, too, do not help all students develop a deep understanding of SME&T concepts. Students can perform the experiments carefully, achieve the predetermined outcome, answer questions, and complete the lab report, yet still leave with very little understanding of the concepts they were supposed to learn (Poole and Kidder, 1996). Even in some SME&T courses based on newer curricula, laboratory experiences may emphasize verifying established knowledge and may not correlate with material presented in subsequent lectures (Hilosky, Sutman, and Schmuckler, 1998).
Data on course completion also indicate that many students cannot master SME&T subjects as they are currently taught (Seymour and Hewitt, 1997). Among U.S. students who declared science and engineering majors as freshmen in 1989/1990, fewer than half had completed such a degree 5 years later, and about 22 percent had dropped out altogether (National Science Foundation [NSF], 2000). Among non-Asian minority students who planned to major in SME&T disciplines as freshmen in 1989/1990, only 25 percent had completed a science or engineering degree after 5 years (NSF, 2000).
In response to these problems, some SME&T educators are experimenting with innovative pedagogical methods. Often, these new approaches are based on research into human cognition, which has identified four elements that are key to enhancing learning (NRC, 1999b, pp. 19-22):
Schools and classrooms must be learner centered.
Attention must be given to what is taught (information, subject matter), why it is taught (understanding), and what competence or mastery looks like.
Formative assessments—ongoing assessments designed to make students’ thinking visible to both teachers and students—are essential.
Learning is influenced in fundamental ways by the context in which it takes place. A community-centered approach requires that students, teachers, and others share norms that value learning and high standards.
Workshop participants identified several key elements of this new pedagogy. First, instructors who use technology to implement these new approaches to teaching and learning typically move from lecturing, as a “sage on the stage,” to becoming a “guide on the side.” Although the instructor still plays a critically important role, deciding how