DBER has made some progress in addressing these challenges. For example, in the more established fields of DBER, such as physics and chemistry, scholars are developing instruments that can be widely used to generate deeper insights into students’ understanding and learning experiences. And although multi-institutional studies are not the norm in DBER, they do exist. Part II of this report highlights these developments by describing the nature and quality of the existing evidence from discipline-based education research in physics, chemistry, engineering, biology, the geosciences, and astronomy, and synthesizing those literatures.


Across the next three chapters, we examine the literature on undergraduate students’ conceptual understanding (Chapter 4), problem solving and use of representations (Chapter 5), and instructional strategies to improve science and engineering learning (Chapter 6). We devote a subsequent chapter (Chapter 7) to several emerging topics for DBER: science and engineering practices, applying knowledge in different settings (transfer), metacognition, and students’ dispositions and motivations to study science and engineering (the affective domain).

Many of the topics in these chapters have been extensively studied in cognitive science, psychology, and science education. Our synthesis draws on relevant theoretical frameworks and findings from those disciplines to explain, extend, and contextualize DBER, while highlighting DBER’s unique contribution of deep disciplinary knowledge to the understanding of these topics.

In reading Chapters 4 through 7, it is important to keep in mind that the nature of engineering and engineering education, combined with the strong influence of the ABET accreditation criteria on engineering education research, distinguish engineering education research from the other disciplines in this study. As a result, the body of engineering education research does not fit neatly into the categories around which we have organized the synthesis of the literature. As one example, because engineering education research emphasizes the integration and alignment of content (or curriculum), assessment, and pedagogy, it is difficult to identify studies in engineering that examine the efficacy of specific instructional strategies—the main focus of Chapter 6. We have parsed the engineering education research to fit the organization of this report, and Table 3-1 maps the ABET criteria onto the major sections of Chapters 4 through 7. Because the research base did not support a discussion of all ABET criteria, the report only discusses the criteria for which there are relevant, peer-reviewed studies.

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