While a traditional college learning setting sees a professor lecturing as students take notes, it is often a “light-bulb moment” of student self-discovery that leaves the largest learning impact. Experiential learning at Mines currently includes guided physics adventures in electricity to active-learning labs in general chemistry; however, a new Mines faculty member will be using his background in science education to explore new methods of instruction and to promote effective teaching across all subjects.
Dr. Sam Spiegel of Philadelphia had careers in everything from catering, to advertising, to cancer research before discovering an interest in science education. He attended Metropolitan State University of Denver, Florida Atlantic University, Temple University of Philadelphia, and Florida State University. Additionally, he has experience teaching science at the middle school, high school, undergraduate, and graduate levels. Dr. Spiegel will be working closely with Mines faculty and a few students as the new Director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning.
“I used to work at the world’s largest and highest powered magnetic field laboratory,” explains Dr. Spiegel. “There, I developed the educational programs for the lab by working with faculty, thinking about how to better apprentice their graduate students to be professionals in the field.” More recently, Dr. Spiegel has worked on faculty development with the engineering and medical schools at the University of Pittsburgh. Because he worked remotely while living in Colorado Springs, the opening at Mines was a natural transition.
Dr. Spiegel’s position is actually part of the Mines Strategic Plan, a ten-year initiative designed to guide the school as it strives to expand research opportunities, increase four-year graduation rates, and remain a leading STEM university. Because several faculty members have been experimenting with new teaching techniques and class designs during the past few years, the need for increased faculty support has become apparent. The resulting Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning was started and managed by Physics Professor Dr. Pat Kohl and Applied Mathematics and Statistics Professor Dr. Gus Greivel, prior to Dr. Spiegel’s arrival to campus on April 1.
“Mines is a unique school in which you have a very high-end student population and highly dedicated faculty,” contends Dr. Spiegel. “There have been pockets of innovation like the physics studio sessions and the biology labs, but the faculty have been managing this on top of their existing loads.” The Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning will provide support, expertise, and resources to these faculty members and the broader group as well. For instance, one of the Dr. Spiegel’s initial projects will be collaborating with Dr. Renee Falconer and Dr. Allison Caster to examine active learning options for the Chemistry Department.
“Nowadays, unless something is truly brand new information, most students don’t need professors to just tell them information, but rather students need support managing, evaluating, and applying information,” Dr. Spiegel asserts. “One idea growing in popularity is using a flipped approach.The idea of the flipped class is that information delivery is part of homework, and then when students go to class, they apply it and have an expert there to facilitate that process.” As learning transitions to a model that resembles apprenticing in the field, one of the challenges will be structuring class time effectively, especially with large groups of students. Dr. Spiegel will be working with CASA and CCIT on several of these changes.
As he continues planning some summer sessions and adjusting to life at Mines, Dr. Spiegel encourages students and faculty to call, email, or stop by his office in the CTLM building. He will be moving to the Golden area with his family soon and is excited to learn more about Mines traditions and to be a part of the community. He will also be serving as a faculty mentor for the CSM101 program and can be found cooking, hiking, kayaking, or painting when not busy on campus.
“Learning is empowering,” says Dr. Spiegel. “My goal is for innovative teaching and learning to become a norm at Mines. In my mind, I’ll know that I’ve been successful if in five years, students choose Mines because they know they will not only get a good job by graduating from Mines, but additionally because Mines is known as the leading university for the teaching of science, mathematics and engineering.”