Research

The Wieman group’s research falls into the following main categories:

Uses of PhET Simulations across the K-16 curriculum

PhET simulations (phet.colorado.edu) are interactive science simulations that are extensively used by a wide range of students and teachers (around 100 million uses this year in a variety of science classrooms, from elementary schools through college). Because simulations are used by such a wide range of students, we are researching what and how students of different ages and scientific backgrounds learn from them. How effective are PhET simulations at motivating and engaging such a wide range of students in science? We aim to determine which aspects of the simulations best support learning across a range of student ages and backgrounds, and what sorts of supporting materials or instruction are most effective for those different students. In addition, we are looking into what learning outcomes PhET simulations facilitate, from learning specific science concepts, to exploring the underlying mechanisms of the phenomenon, to developing inquiry or metacognitive skills.

Identifying student inquiry skills

We are examining the interplay between content knowledge and problem solving strategies, and how this relation is mediated by technology and socioemotional factors. Problem solving strategies are too often studied separately from social and emotional contexts and are evaluated too universally regardless of the accompanying content knowledge.  The goals of this research are, primarily, to identify which problem solving strategies pave the way to expertise and which strategies paralyze the experts; and, secondarily, how socioemotional factors and technology use can positively or negatively contribute to these processes.

Cognitive principles for instructional design

Although current “active learning” efforts have been shown to provide better learning outcomes than traditional instructional methods, there is currently little guidance on how to design such materials to best support learning.  We are designing, implementing, and studying instructional materials that take into account findings on human cognition, such as the benefits of inventing from a series of contrasting cases (e.g. Schwartz et al., 2011).  By studying the efficacy of these materials, we hope to provide instructors, curriculum developers, and researchers with new principles for designing effective instructional materials for typical classroom instruction.

STEM laboratory courses

Teaching and learning in physics labs

Research evaluating the outcomes of instructional labs has been sparse, especially when compared with studies in other areas of STEM education. We have begun assessing teaching and learning of scientific concepts and skills in instructional labs with different pedagogical structures. We are continuing this work through curricular design in introductory physics lab courses and an advanced chemical engineering lab course.

Relationship between instructional labs and research experience

We have recently conducted a series of focus group interviews with undergraduate summer research students. We are using and expanding this work to explore the relationship between learning outcomes in research experiences and instructional labs. How can labs (better) prepare students for research? How can research experience support students’ performance in other courses?