Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carl Wieman, who has been a leading light in the Obama administration’s push to improve science education, is leaving his post as associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Wieman is stepping down on 2 June for “personal reasons”, confirmed OSTP communications director Rick Weiss in an e-mail to Nature today.
Wieman, who won his Nobel in 2001 for the creation of the first Bose–Einstein condensate, made a dramatic career shift to a quantitative study of undergraduate education methods soon after receiving his prize. He spearheaded the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver in 2007, while maintaining a position at the University of Colorado at Boulder in another teaching initiative. He went on leave from both posts on taking up his position with OSTP in 2010; it is unclear whether he plans to return to them now. “His future plans are uncertain at this time,” says Weiss. A UBC website lists Wieman as being on leave until July 2012.
Wieman has made waves with his scientifically rigorous approach to assessing what university students ought to be learning and how they would best learn it. He has been an outspoken advocate for participatory technologies in the classroom, such as ‘clickers’ that let students answer multiple-choice questions and reveal their answers to the teacher on the fly (see this UBC page about clickers). He has tackled many conventional beliefs about ‘good’ teaching, showing that even the most dynamic teachers with the smallest classes fail to get students to retain information using traditional lectures (see ‘Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class‘). Many of his views are discussed on his blog.