Rethinking Professional Development in Undergraduate STEM Education

Diane Ebert-May (Michigan State University) discussed her evaluations of two established faculty professional development programs: the NSF-funded Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching (FIRST) project and the National Academies’ Summer Institutes, funded by the Howard Hughes Foundation.3 The evaluations are guided by three research questions.

  1. Do faculties change in response to professional development?

  2. Are those changes in teaching sustained over time?

  3. What factors contribute to the change pedagogy?

Of the 134 workshop participants in the institutes, 75 were involved in the evaluation study. The numbers of tenured and nontenured faculty were roughly equal, and 56 percent of study participants were female. Although most study participants were teaching at R1 institutions (institutions that focus primarily on research), Ebert-May said the study also included faculty from a variety of 2- and 4-year colleges and universities.4

Evaluators used the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP) to rate participants’ videotaped lessons shortly after the institutes and again up to 2 years later. Developed by Evaluation Facilitation Group of the Arizona Collaborative for Excellence in the Preparation of Teachers, the RTOP is designed to determine the extent to which instructors are using reformed teaching in undergraduate science and mathematics courses (Piburn et al., 2000).

Ebert-May discussed five categories of teaching addressed by the RTOP, which represent a continuum from teacher-centered to student-centered activities. As she explained, category I is pure lecture; category II is lecture with some demonstration and minor student participation; category III involves significant student engagement with some minds-on and hands-on involvement; category IV includes active student participation in the critique and in carrying out experiments; and category V constitutes active student involvement in open-ended inquiry resulting in alternative hypotheses, several explanations, and critical reflection.

In Ebert-May’s evaluations, the majority of instructors fell into catego-


For more detailed information about the FIRST workshops, see For more information about the National Academies Summer Institutes, see


Research universities 1 (R1) offer a full range of baccalaureate programs and give high priority to research.

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