A Class of Seven Billion: The Western Conference on Science Education (WCSE), Fall 2011

Accessible Version

By Tom Haffie: Faculty Associate, Teaching Support Centre; WCSE Conference Chair

In his Great Hall Banquet address, Adam Bly, founder and CEO of SEED Media Group, challenged WCSE delegates to re-imagine their approach to science literacy. "What if our goal was not the training of thousands of scientists, but rather the education of seven billion scientifically literate citizens?" Bly’s provocative ideas about how to go about educating a class of seven billion stretched the conference theme of "Pulling Together" well beyond the walls of our classrooms and the borders of our country.

The Western Conference on Science Education, which was held July 6 - 8, 2011, was the first conference inviting Canadian post-secondary science educators to gather across disciplines. They made good use of the opportunity. Over 130 delegates from Vancouver Island to Cape Breton Island (now known as "Wixies") gathered at Western to meet one another and share their experience, innovations, and research in teaching and learning.

Here is a peek at some titles of presentations, workshops, and posters from the Conference Program:

Exploring the use of social media to support teaching and learning physics

Seeing with new eyes: developing visual literacy in the sciences Strengthening our measurement instruments in science education

Student success and the high school/university transition

Immersive learning through educational gaming

Evaluating teaching: re-visiting the use of chemistry concept inventories

Ambivalence in teaching publicly controversial science

Citizen science projects for non-science astronomy students

Facilitated group problem-solving sessions in first year calculus

Science education mythbusters: challenging the idea of expected grade distributions and "anomalous grades"

Presentations by Gisèle Yasmeen, VP Research SSHRC, and Isabelle Blain, VP NSERC, generated lively discussion of the state of funding for SoTL work in post-secondary science education in Canada.

The success of the inaugural conference allows us to envision the triennial WCSE conferences as engaging and generative "beads on a string." One aspect of the "string" that will connect the conferences is the WCSE Blog. The Committee will make regular posts on issues important to Wixies. Another strand in the string is an ongoing review of the scholarship of teaching and learning in Canadian post-secondary science. A collaborative group of Western faculty, graduate students, and librarians made a preliminary presentation at the Conference and will be publishing the full review in the coming year. See the Blog for a copy of the bibliography to date.

The Conference acknowledges the generous founding support of the Faculty of Science, Research Western, Western Libraries, the Teaching Support Centre, the Instructional Technology Resource Centre, and Nelson Education. A small army of graduate student volunteers helped to ensure that the conference ran smoothly and delegates were well looked after. We also appreciate the cooperation and assistance provided by Western’s Conference Services. The Conference Committee consisted of Bernard Chan, Rob Dean, Winona Gadapati, Alyssa Gilbert, Keith Griffiths, Natasha Patrito Hannon, Ken Meadows, Alex Timoshenko, Cam Tsujita, Jennifer Waugh, Tim Wilson, Bethany White and Mitch Zimmer.

Slides supporting many of the 50+ talks are posted on the WCSE Blog at wcse.ca. Links will be posted soon to videos of engaging plenary talks by Peter Mahaffy (Pulling Together for Climate Change Education, King’s University College), Sarah Gilbert (CWSEI Showcase, Acting Director, Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative, UBC) and Brent Davis (Complexity in Science Education, University of Calgary).