Faculty Experiences - Mark Moldwin

Mark Moldwin - photoMARK MOLDWIN

Earth and Space Sciences

Interview Topics

What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?

How could the University better facilitate the use of technology in instruction?


Class discussion

Learn by doing

Different learning styles

Immediate feedback



Class web site

Dorm room labs



Instant messaging

Providing a Multifaceted Learning Experience with Dorm Room Labs

What matters most to me in my teaching is to make a personal connection with my students so that I can better convey the excitement of science to them. If students begin to sincerely contemplate what science is, they may become more curious about the world around them.

Technology is a secondary tool that I use. I try to get students to use their hands and their brains, and I try to interact more personally with students, rather than via technology. I try to keep up with my students in terms of their expectations of technology. Not only do I use PowerPoint lecture slides, I have a class web site where all student assignments are posted. I use email quite a bit as well as instant messaging office hours. Almost all of my students are non-science majors. At the beginning of the quarter I ask how many students actually enjoy science and mathematics, and generally very few of them raise their hands. Then I ask how many don’t like science and math, and most of the students raise their hands

So I think the challenge for most faculty teaching general education undergraduate math and science courses is to help change students’ mindsets about science. Because people learn differently I try to expose students to different learning techniques—not only the traditional lecture and reading assignments, but I try to engage students more in class. I have a process called Lecture Tutorials where students break up into small groups and actually answer questions and try to explain concepts to each other. I think the act of actually speaking and making an argument has students thinking in class instead of just passively listening to a professor lecture

The reason I was nominated for the Copenhaver award was for my use of dorm room labs. The GE class I teach does not have a laboratory component, but I provide these dorm room labs with the expectation that students will go back to their dorm room and conduct experiments. The labs are small boxes that I hand students containing compasses, spectrographs, and other experimental tools. For example, students might make observations about the sun with solar telescopes that they can check out from me. This type of experimentation is more tactile; students are actually doing something. After students complete the laboratory project, I follow the labs up with animations and computer simulations that connect the two-dimensional graphing or plotting they were doing in the lab with the 3D world. I use these animations so that we can walk through the concepts they have just explored in their experiments, for example the use of magnets, or compasses, or their own spectroscopes. I use this technology as an additional tool to try and elucidate what students have explored already through experimentation and other means.

There have been a lot of studies in science education illustrating the fact that students learn very differently. If I can get students “out of their seat” by requiring them to perform some kind of kinesthetic space science, I feel I am providing a multifaceted learning experience that takes into account the varied ways that people really learn. I also try to keep the class simple—there are a few fundamental concepts that students need to grasp, and we revisit those concepts several times and in different ways through the course. The student evaluations are very positive, and so I will continue what I’ve been doing. It takes a lot more work, but the excitement is there. I think many students leave the classroom with a different attitude regarding science.

In terms of future technology goals, I have wanted to use clickers in the courses I teach. Clickers are usually radio-controlled or infrared handheld remotes which allow students to give instantaneous responses to the professor while he or she is teaching. I want students to become more responsible for their own learning—clickers would allow them to interact more during lecture. For example, a professor could ask a multiple choice conceptual question and compile students’ answers in real time. What I’ve been doing lately is just old-fashioned hand raising or holding up notes. It’s a way to keep students engaged and gives them a little excitement and keeps students involved. I know the University has been exploring the development of these clickers and I’ve been waiting for them to make this technology accessible to all. I think by the fall of 2006 they should have a campus-wide clicker program.

UCLA does a very good job of encouraging faculty to use technology. I’ve attended a number of workshops that have explored uses of web technology. I use WebCt and Moodle to allow students to take online quizzes every weekend based on the next week’s reading. This ensures that students come to class prepared to participate. UCLA OID offers a mini-grant program that provides a couple hundred dollars for faculty. These funds allow me to purchase the dorm room labs for the students. Besides the mini grant, the instructional development office offers other grants offering faculty the opportunity to explore technology. So I think the only barrier to implementation of technology in the classroom is faculty time. As young faculty with the time to explore new learning styles become the dominant faculty on campus, more and more technology will find their way into courses.

Oral Interview, April 2006