DBER is grounded in the science and engineering disciplines and addresses questions of teaching and learning within those disciplines. The roots of this type of research can be traced to the early 1900s, but DBER emerged more prominently in the 1980s and 1990s (see Chapter 2 for a detailed discussion of the history). DBER can be defined both by the focus of the research and by the researchers who conduct it. In the following sections, we define DBER and who conducts it. This definition guided the committee in identifying the relevant bodies of research, and examining how to advance DBER and strengthen its impact.

DBER investigates learning and teaching in a discipline using a range of methods with deep grounding in the discipline’s priorities, worldview, knowledge, and practices. It is informed by and complementary to more general research on human learning and cognition. Although the focus of this report is learning and teaching in undergraduate institutions, DBER scholars have also examined learning and teaching in the K-12 context, particularly at the high school level.

The long-term goals of DBER are to

•   understand how people learn the concepts, practices, and ways of thinking of science and engineering;

•   understand the nature and development of expertise in a discipline;

•   help to identify and measure appropriate learning objectives and instructional approaches that advance students toward those objectives;

•   contribute to the knowledge base in a way that can guide the translation of DBER findings to classroom practice; and

•   identify approaches to make science and engineering education broad and inclusive.

Thus the research has the practical goal of improving science and engineering education for all students.

Achieving these goals requires that DBER studies be grounded in expert knowledge of the discipline and the challenges for learning, teaching, and professional thinking within that discipline. All fields of DBER share a common focus on issues that are important for understanding and fostering student learning of the most crucial topics, techniques, procedures, and ways of knowing that define the particular discipline. This focus includes investigating student learning within that discipline per se, along with issues affecting enrollment and retention of students in classes and the adoption of best practices by instructors.

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