Since then, numerous teaching, learning, assessment, and institutional innovations in undergraduate STEM education have emerged. Because virtually all of these innovations have been developed independently of one another, their goals and purposes vary widely. Some focus on making science accessible and meaningful to the vast majority of students who will not pursue STEM majors or careers; others aim to increase the diversity of students who enroll and succeed in STEM courses and programs; still other efforts focus on reforming the overall curriculum in specific disciplines. In addition to this variation in focus, these innovations have been implemented at scales that range from individual classrooms to entire departments or institutions.
By 2008, partly because of this wide variability, it was apparent that little was known about the feasibility of replicating individual innovations or about their potential for broader impact beyond the specific contexts in which they were created. The research base on innovations in undergraduate STEM education was expanding rapidly, but the process of synthesizing that knowledge base had not yet begun. If future investments were to be informed by the past, then the field clearly needed a retrospective look at the ways in which earlier innovations had influenced undergraduate STEM education.
To address this need, NSF asked the NRC to convene an ad hoc steering committee to plan and implement a series of two public workshops focused on a thoughtful examination of the state of evidence of impact and effectiveness of selected STEM undergraduate education innovations. The steering committee was appointed and charged with identifying selection criteria and selecting STEM innovation “candidates” from reform efforts in teaching, curriculum, assessment, and faculty development. Of particular interest were STEM innovations in which the evidence of impact is strong and rich enough to analyze its effect on the “uptake” and sustainability of an innovation over time. The committee adopted the term “promising practices” to refer to innovations in STEM learning, teaching, and assessment.
The first workshop took place in June 2008 and focused on the challenge of aligning the learning goals of—and evidence of effectiveness for—promising practices within and across the science disciplines. In the second workshop, held in October 2008, participants delved more deeply into a select group of the promising practices in undergraduate STEM education that came to light at the June meeting. In planning both workshops, the committee focused in particular on innovations associated with the first two years of undergraduate STEM education. The innovations discussed in October represent a small proportion of the many promising practices