provide such opportunities to exercises both in and outside of class or laboratory that structure and guide reflection—in new curricula.
Understanding is constructed on a foundation of existing conceptual frameworks and experiences. Prior understanding can support further learning. In some cases, however, it can also lead to the development of pre- or misconceptions that may act as barriers to learning. Prior understandings also can be influenced by culture, which has implications for the development of dual use curricular materials for an international audience (NRC 2008). The importance of engaging learners’ prior understanding as they encounter new material is another key insight from the science of learning (summarized in NRC 2000) with direct implications for education about dual use and related issues.
Conceptual change often requires explicit instruction and takes time. In many current education systems, learners are often faced with too many disconnected ideas too quickly to be able to take meaning from them and change a previously held conception. And the literature on learning suggests that humans are not adept at making connections between disparate fields or types of knowledge unless they are specifically helped to do so through education (NRC 2000).
Curricula can be designed to engage students in key scientific practices: talk and argument, modeling and representation, and learning from investigations (NRC 2008). Designing a course or module in order to achieve specific learning goals and measurable outcomes is the first step in designing a curriculum with the techniques of active learning in mind. In contrast, the current system practiced by many faculty consists of first selecting a textbook, followed by compiling the course syllabus and assignments, constructing exams, and finally describing learning goals and outcomes based on the earlier steps. This “reverse design” process (i.e., first set the desired goals and outcomes of the educational module and then design a syllabus; Wiggins and McTighe 2005) is intended to ensure that learning outcomes inform instructional and also assessment strategies both by explicitly articulating and then integrating them into curriculum development at the outset. Assessment can be both formative and summative. Formative assessment is usually informal and low stakes (i.e., assessment exercises either do not count or comprise only a small percentage of students’ grades) and is offered regularly throughout the learning process, providing feedback for both the teacher and learner on progress achieved. In contrast, summative assessment, conducted at the end of a learning and teaching experience, provides information to students about their learning gains and to faculty and programs about the overall success of the effort. Both formative and summative assessments can be used to inform subsequent restructuring of the curriculum. Concept inventories, critical thinking rubrics, and curriculum-specific, pre- and posttests are examples of summative assessment tools. Without assessment that is closely aligned to learning outcomes, it is difficult to gather evidence about the effectiveness of curriculum.