Building on the definition of discipline-based education research (DBER) in Chapter 1, the first section of this chapter traces the development of DBER within physics, chemistry, engineering, biology, the geosciences, and astronomy. In that discussion, we describe the emergence and current status of DBER within each discipline, including who conducts DBER and the pathways to developing expertise as a discipline-based education researcher. These histories draw heavily on papers commissioned for this study (Bailey, 2011; Bodner, 2011; Cummings, 2011; DeHaan, 2011; Lohmann and Froyd, 2011). Next, looking across the fields of DBER, we analyze the current status of DBER overall. This analysis was guided by Fensham’s (2004) criteria for characterizing the emergence of new disciplines.
Although the trajectories of DBER across the different disciplines are distinct, they share some milestones that reflect developments within the larger context of science and education. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, concerns about the quality of learning and teaching science at the postsecondary level began to emerge, marking the first steps toward DBER. These concerns coincided with the expansion of colleges and universities in the United States (Rudolph, 1990). At this time, the focus was on the quality of science education based on the judgment of disciplinary experts rather than on a research program to improve that quality. The next common milestone occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, when the launch of Sputnik sparked a
realization that having a sufficient number of scientists and engineers in the United States was essential to remain competitive on the world stage. As part of the response, the National Science Foundation funded science curriculum development projects and involved scientists from the disciplines in that work (Cummings, 2011; Rudolph, 2002). Finally, from the 1970s through the 1990s, scholarly research that might be considered true DBER emerged and the individual fields of DBER gained recognition as fields of study within the science disciplines. Recognition of DBER can be seen in statements by professional societies, the establishment of journals and the emergence of graduate and postdoctoral opportunities.
In the following sections, we trace the development of DBER in each of the parent disciplines. The six fields of DBER are discussed in roughly chronological order, from the parent discipline where DBER, in its modern form, first emerged to those where it emerged later. We adopt this approach because fields that have developed more recently have built on the experiences of older fields.
The Emergence of Physics Education Research
Early roots of physics education research (PER) can be traced to concerns about the quality of physics education that emerged during the late 1800s and early 1920s. These concerns led to the establishment of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) in 1930. Since 1932, AAPT has been the primary organization supporting the improvement of physics education in the United States.
The rise of PER was probably a result of the national concern about science education in the late 1950s and 1960s, which led to the involvement of natural scientists in efforts to improve science education (Cummings, 2011; Matthews, 1994). Following Sputnik, large infusions of federal funds and the emergence of many highly respected physicists as leaders in educational reform made involvement in physics education more attractive to members of that community. For every level of the education system from early elementary school to the university, new curricular content was developed that was more consistent with contemporary physics research. Large-scale efforts to reformulate undergraduate introductory physics were centered at the University of California at Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Feynman, Leighton, and Sands, 1964; French, 1968; Kittel, Knight, and Ruderman, 1965). At the K-12 level, physicists worked with educators to use new pedagogy that reflected the processes of science (similar to what has recently been called inquiry or scientific practices). These efforts included the Physical Science Study Committee (Finlay, 1962), Harvard Project Physics (Holton, 2003), and the Science Curriculum Improvement Study (Karplus, 1964). Although
the intellectual structure of these curricula and the national support for them seemed strong, by the 1970s these reform efforts were no longer widely used. By the 1980s, only traces of them remained at any level of the U.S. educational system (Matthews, 1994).
The first groups doing work that could be called PER began systematic research programs on student difficulties at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Washington (Cummings, 2011). The Berkeley group was a mix of physicists, educators, and educational psychologists; the Washington group was self-contained in physics. These groups influenced some physicists to join the PER effort and some physics students to search for a professional path into the emerging field of PER.
The first PER Ph.D.s graduated in the late 1970s. By the 1980s, at least a dozen universities included PER groups, which began graduating PER Ph.D.s in the 1990s (Cummings, 2011). These first Ph.D. programs in PER followed three models, which are still in use today:
1. a Ph.D. completely within the physics department,
2. a Ph.D. in education with the intellectual home in physics, and
3. an interdisciplinary degree with the intellectual home in physics.
During the 1990s, students with PER Ph.D.s and physics Ph.D.s who were crossing over to PER as postdoctoral researchers began to join the faculty of physics departments. Between 1998 and 2004, 61 faculty were hired in positions with PER as their area of research (Meltzer et al., 2004).
During the late twentieth century, the organizational wall between education and physics research became more permeable. The American Physical Society (APS) reestablished its Committee on Education in 1973 (originally created in 1920, but discontinued in 1927), added an education officer in 1986, and established a Forum on Education in 1993. In 1999, APS issued a policy statement recognizing PER as part of the research portfolio of a physics department.1 Since that time, the APS has actively promoted the improvement of physics education through PER and the use of PER-based educational practices (Cummings, 2011).
By the 1990s, increasing numbers of scholars were attending special PER sessions at the semiannual AAPT national meetings. Since 1997, the PER community has held its own annual national meeting, typically with more 200 attendees (Cummings, 2011). By the year 2000, PER sessions were held regularly at APS national meetings. With several national and international topical meetings for PER each year, physics education researchers have clearly become a vigorous community.
Despite the growth of the field in the 1990s, prior to 2000 it was difficult to publish PER. The AAPT journal, the American Journal of Physics, published only articles featuring practical instructional techniques and did not emphasize the research on which they were based. A PER supplement to this journal was established that accepted a limited number of articles. In 2005, following APS’ recognition of physics education as an important subdiscipline of physics, the society established a Physical Review journal specifically for physics education research. Currently, PER is published primarily in the two AAPT journals, American Journal of Physics and The Physics Teacher, or in the APS journal, Physical Review Special Topics—Physics Education Research.
Although PER has expanded in the 40 years of its existence, it is still a fledgling field (Cummings, 2011). A total of 79 PER groups, with one or more faculty members, are active at colleges and universities in the United States.2 Only about a dozen institutions grant Ph.D.s in this field, and collectively they produce a handful of graduates each year. The appointment of a PER Ph.D. to the tenure-track faculty at a major research university is still a rare occurrence. Only a few funded postdoctoral opportunities in PER are available (Cummings, 2011). PER research funding continues to be most closely linked to curriculum development in programs such as the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (TUES) Program and, to a smaller extent, by NSF’s Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, the Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Office of Naval Research. However, NSF is also beginning to fund PER that is not directly connected with curriculum development.
The Emergence of Chemistry Education Research
Chemistry Education Research (CER) has origins similar to PER. Concerns about the quality of undergraduate chemistry education emerged in the 1920s, but they did not lead to the establishment of a separate professional society focused on teaching. Although the Journal of Chemical Education was established in 1924, research focused on chemistry education did not emerge at that time.
Paralleling physics, in the 1960s a number of curriculum development programs in chemistry were catalyzed by national concerns about the need for scientists and engineers. ChemStudy and the Chemical Bond Approach were developed in response to the perception that chemistry was taught at
the macroscopic level mainly as the classification and preparation of numerous compounds and elements. The new curricula were primarily driven by attempts to provide students with a deeper understanding of chemical principles and atomic molecular theory.
The initial forays into what would become CER were carried out by faculty members of chemistry departments who had achieved tenure and promotion to full professor in traditional areas of chemistry research. At Purdue University, these conditions gave rise to the Division of Chemical Education in the Department of Chemistry in 1981 (Bodner, 2011). The first doctoral programs in chemistry departments that awarded Ph.D. degrees for CER arose in the 1990s at the University of Oklahoma, the University of Northern Colorado, and Purdue University. The first Ph.D. in CER was awarded in 1993, with the first postdoctoral appointment in 1994. During the same time frame, tenure was also first awarded to CER faculty in chemistry departments.
In 1994, the American Chemical Society (ACS) Division of Chemical Education established a committee on CER. As the world’s largest scientific society, ACS first recognized CER in its Statement on Scholarship in 20003 and has formally revised and renewed that commitment every two years since that time. In 2007, ACS established the Award for Achievement in Research on the Teaching and Learning of Chemistry. ACS national meetings typically include several research symposia devoted to CER. The Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (of the ACS Division on Chemical Education) also provides a growing number of CER symposia. Beyond ACS, premier scientific organizations in chemistry recognize CER to varying degrees. In 1994, the Gordon Research Conferences established the “Innovations in College Chemistry Teaching” conference, now the “Chemistry Education Research and Practice” conference, to feature the frontiers of cutting-edge CER.
The Journal of Chemical Education (published by the Division of Chemical Education of the ACS) and the Royal Society’s Chemistry Education Research and Practice are the two primary publications for CER. However, as of 2012, the weekly flagship journal of the ACS, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, had yet to publish any CER papers.
Today in the United States, there are 29 doctoral programs where graduate students can earn a Ph.D. in chemistry for conducting research on the teaching, learning, or assessment of chemistry.4 Most of these programs
3The statement is available at http://portal.acs.org/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_TRANSITIONMAIN&node_id=1531&use_sec=false&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=8e5645fb-ce86-447b-92f4-78010f0a29cf [accessed April 16, 2012].
4For a listing of CER graduate programs, see http://www.users.muohio.edu/bretzsl/gradprograms.html [accessed April 16, 2012].
require students specializing in CER to complete coursework across the core subdisciplines of analytical, bio-, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry. These students also typically take methodology and theory courses in statistics, sociology, curriculum, cognitive science, and educational psychology. In addition to the CER dissertation research, many programs also require CER students to conduct experimental “bench” research.5 There are no postdoctoral programs in CER.
In terms of funding, the NSF Career Program now makes awards that include CER. In 2011, the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program accepted DBER proposals for the first time, and one CER award was made. Typical sources of NSF funding for CER include the Division of Undergraduate Education and the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings. Within the Math and Physical Sciences Directorate, the Division of Chemistry at NSF does not fund CER (although it does fund some PER), in contrast to the Engineering, Biological Sciences, and Geo-sciences Directorates. Some other federal and private funding programs that support bench chemistry research do not typically invite CER proposals.
The Emergence of Engineering Education Research
Although engineering shares many teaching and learning concerns with the science disciplines—after all, engineering students take about one-third of their courses in science and math—it is markedly different from other fields. Design, problem solving and application of knowledge are fundamental to engineering. Also, unique among the disciplines represented in DBER, engineering programs are externally accredited by ABET, which, as described elsewhere in this report, strongly influences engineering education and engineering education research (EER).
Engineering education emerged as an area of interest for curriculum development and pedagogical innovation in the United States with the founding of the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education (SPEE) in 1893 (now known as the American Society for Engineering Education) (Lohmann and Froyd, 2011). In 1910, SPEE established the first periodical related to engineering education, called the Bulletin of the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education. The publication changed names several times during the century that followed. In 1993, it became the Journal of Engineering Education and made an explicit shift to publishing research. Although this is the only journal to exclusively focus on EER, the missions of several other engineering journals, such as Engineering Studies, European Journal of Engineering Education, International Journal
5For a description of the content of CER graduate programs, see http://www.users.muohio.edu/bretzsl/gradprograms.html [accessed April 16, 2012].
of Engineering Education, Engineering Education, and Chemical Engineering Education include education research (Lohmann and Froyd, 2011).
The transition of engineering education to a more scholarly field of scientific inquiry occurred nearly a century after its inception—catalyzed by NSF funding for education research and development beginning in the late 1980s, and the emergence of the outcomes-based ABET Engineering Criteria in the late 1990s. In 1996, ABET specified areas of knowledge and skill development for students by which degree-granting institutions would be judged beginning in 2001 (see Chapter 3 for a description). The ABET criteria specify a range of student learning outcomes including specific knowledge and skills as well as more general habits of mind and professional conduct (ABET, 2009).
The dialogue and decisions made in the 1990s, fueled by the increasing awareness within engineering that the intuition-based approaches of the past were not producing the engineering talent required to address society’s current challenges (National Academy of Engineering, 2004; National Science Foundation, 1992), paved the way for EER to become an established field of inquiry. In 2004-2005, the NSF-funded Engineering Education Research Colloquies led to the development of a taxonomy of EER organized around “five priority research areas (Engineering Epistemologies, Engineering Learning Mechanisms, Engineering Learning Systems, Engineering Diversity and Inclusiveness, and Engineering Assessment)” that merge knowledge of disciplinary engineering and the science of learning (The Steering Committee of the National Engineering Education Research Colloquies, 2006a, 2006b).
EER has begun to emerge as an interdisciplinary field seeking its own theoretical foundations from a rich array of research traditions in the cognitive and learning sciences, education, and other DBER fields (Lohmann and Froyd, 2011). EER is increasingly featured at conferences of engineering education societies around the world. Engineering education research has a strong presence in the Educational Research and Methods Division of the American Society for Engineering Education and at their two yearly conferences. The annual Research on Engineering Education Network conference is entirely devoted to engineering education research, and the Collaboratory for Engineering Education Research6 provides online communities and resources for EER scholars analogous to On the Cutting Edge in the geosciences (described under “The Emergence of Geoscience Education Research”).
In addition, EER doctoral dissertations have increased dramatically. Between 1929 and about 1980, EER doctoral dissertations were sporadic. From 1980 to 1989, between 5 and 11 of these dissertations were published
per year (Strobel et al., 2008). In contrast, more than 460 Ph.D. dissertations focused on engineering education between 1990 and 2010. In 2004, Purdue University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University each created a Department of Engineering Education (Lohmann and Froyd, 2011).
Lohmann and Froyd (2011) conclude that EER “has established the critical physical infrastructure, e.g., centers, departments, journals, conferences, and funding, necessary for it to now devote increasing attention to its intellectual growth, e.g., conceptual and theoretical development, research methodologies, and progression” (p. 11). Svinicki (2011) argues that future progress for EER will involve collaboration with experts in a variety of other disciplines, including psychology, education, and communication.
The Emergence of Biology Education Research
Similar to physics, chemistry and engineering concerns about the quality of biology education emerged at the start of the twentieth century. However, little research was focused on biology education. Investigators were not well known to each other, and venues for publication were scant (DeHaan, 2011).
Beginning in the 1930s, the journal Science Education started to shift its emphasis from solely primary and secondary instruction to include college instruction. Several other outlets for publication on biology education were established by emerging professional societies, such as American Biology Teacher (established by the National Association of Biology Teachers in 1938), and the AIBS Bulletin, which became BioScience (established by the American Institute of Biological Sciences in 1951).
Contributors to early research on biology education were primarily motivated by general questions of science learning, such as the relative value of lecture and demonstrations versus laboratory instruction, conceptualization versus memorizing, and the effectiveness of collaborative versus individual competitive learning (DeHaan, 2011). However, a few science faculty, prompted in particular by concerns over the prescribed laboratory exercises that had become common by the 1930s, experimented with new instructional approaches using their college biology students as participants. After the introduction of Bloom’s taxonomy of intellectual behavior (1956), which clarified the distinction between memorizing factual information and learning for understanding, biology educators sought ways to promote conceptual learning. In the 1980s and 1990s, following the lead of PER, biology educators began to document common student misconceptions in biology (e.g., Pfundt and Duit, 1988).
Much of the biology education research (BER) published before 2000 was descriptive, for example, reporting the development of a new course
or laboratory module and student reactions to it. However, since the 1990s there has been a gradual shift toward more analytical and quantitative studies of teaching and learning, stimulated in part by PER and in part by entry of more “border crossers” into the field (i.e., biologists who became interested in researching the effectiveness of instruction and brought analytical approaches from their scientific work into their education research). Concept inventories modeled on the Force Concept Inventory from physics (Hestenes, Wells, and Swackhamer, 1992) were developed for several areas of biology (D’Avanzo, 2008) to help monitor the effectiveness of instruction in dispelling student misconceptions (see Chapter 4 for a discussion of concept inventories). A parallel contributing factor to this shift was the establishment of new journals demanding different standards of evidence for the value of instructional interventions.
A review of the literature from 1990-2010 commissioned for this study (Dirks, 2011) identified about 200 studies that reported data on student learning, performance, or attitudes in college biology courses. Most (83 percent) of the 200 articles reviewed by Dirks (2011) were published since 2000. These articles appeared in more than 100 different journals. However, most were published in just four journals—the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST) and three journals established since 1990: Journal of College Science Teaching (established 1994); Advances in Physiology Education (established 1996); and Cell Biology Education, later renamed CBE-Life Sciences Education (established 2002). CBE-Life Sciences Education, an open-access online journal sponsored by the American Society for Cell Biology with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has had from its inception an editorial policy of publishing only articles that include clear evidence for the value of instructional interventions based on student assessments.
Biology is organized into a large number of subfields with many professional societies. In contrast, the BER community is emerging in a more centralized way. In 2010, the BER community established the Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER) with the explicit goal of advancing the field of undergraduate BER. SABER provides a community for disseminating information on BER, fostering research collaborations, and promoting more uniform standards for the training of BER scholars. Data collected from participants at the first annual SABER meeting in July 2011 indicate that a defined pathway of training for students who aspire to a career in BER is emerging, but that considerable variation remains.
Demand is increasing for graduate programs that train students in both biological and education research. Currently fewer than a dozen such programs in U.S. departments of biology have at least two BER tenure-track faculty and prescribed degree requirements that generally involve the same comprehensive examinations given to biology students, but include no
experience conducting disciplinary research. About 10 additional biology departments offer the opportunity for a Ph.D. in BER to the students of an individual, tenure-track BER faculty member.7
The small number of biology departments offering BER Ph.D.s reflects the persistent, general ambivalence toward BER as a subfield of biology. Only a handful of biology departments have recognized BER as a subfield that should be represented on the biology faculty. Except for the more senior border crossers, much of the BER in biology departments is conducted by nontenure-track researchers who do not mentor graduate students. In addition, there are limited postdoctoral education opportunities for biology Ph.D.s who wish to become education researchers or education research Ph.D.s who seek advanced training in biology.
The Emergence of Geoscience Education Research
Paralleling physics, chemistry, and biology, concern about geoscience education first emerged in the late 1800s. With an emphasis on physical geography and meteorology, the focus of these efforts was narrower than that of modern geosciences. Moreover, as in the other disciplines, this early concern about the quality of education did not emphasize research on education.
As part of the curriculum development efforts of the 1950s and 1960s the Earth Science Curriculum Project (ESCP) was commissioned (post-Sputnik, but pre-plate tectonics). The curriculum developers strongly emphasized laboratory and field study, in which students actively participated in the process of scientific inquiry rather than repeating step-by-step exercises (Irwin, 1970). These and other emphases of the ESCP remain targets for contemporary geoscience education research: science as inquiry, the universality of change, the flow of mass and energy in the complex Earth system, the significance of Earth components and their relationship in space and time, and the comprehension of scale.
In 1996 an NSF advisory panel on geoscience education recommended that the Directorate for Geosciences and the Directorate for Education and Human Resources both “support research in geoscience education, helping geoscientists to work with colleagues in fields such as educational and cognitive psychology, in order to facilitate development of a new generation of geoscience educators” (National Science Foundation, 1997). Spurred in part by the ensuing support, geoscience education research (GER) began to coalesce as a recognized field of scholarship in the 2000s. Before that time, seminal work was being conducted by border crossers (those who conduct
7For a listing of graduate programs in BER, see https://saber-biologyeducationresearch.wikispaces.com/Graduate+Programs+in+BER [accessed April 16, 2012].
research in both GER and a traditional geoscience discipline) (Dodick and Orion, 2003; Kali and Orion, 1996; Kern and Carpenter, 1984, 1986; Orion and Hofstein, 1994; Orion et al., 1997).
A catalytic event in the history of GER was the 2002 “Wingspread” workshop, sponsored by NSF and the Johnson Foundation, on “Bringing Research on Learning to the Geosciences” (Manduca, Mogk, and Stillings, 2004). The workshop was held for the dual purposes of identifying how research from other fields could be applied to geoscience education and jump-starting a research agenda in GER. Since the Wingspread workshop (although not necessarily as a direct consequence), the number of geoscientists who engage in GER either full or part time and the rate of production of GER studies has grown.8 Indeed, a new field of scholarship is emerging under the heading of “geocognition,” which seeks to identify what it means to be an expert geoscientist, and how to facilitate the transition from novice to expert (Clary, Brzuszek, and Wandersee, 2009; Petcovic, Libarkin, and Baker, 2009).
As of 2012, fewer than a half dozen faculty nationwide had achieved promotion to tenure based on a GER portfolio, and a similarly small handful had received a Ph.D. in GER from a geoscience department. Graduate degree programs in GER are typically hosted within geoscience departments and have the same degree requirements as any other advanced degree awarded by these departments. As with BER, the balance between “geoscience” and “education” degree requirements varies from program to program. At least six universities now offer a Ph.D. in GER through their college of education, college of science, or a combination.9 Employers of geoscience education researchers are primarily large state universities.
Geoscience education researchers find collegial support in the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT),10 the National Earth Science Teachers Association (founded in 1983, with a focus on K-12 earth science education), the Geoscience Education Division of the Geological Society of America (GSA), and the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Professional societies, particularly GSA and AGU, have hosted an increasing number of education research sessions at their annual meetings. These meetings have exposed the larger geoscience community to emerging GER results, helped to establish GER as a respected field of scholarly work, and encouraged more colleagues to participate in GER. In 2002, GSA hosted a distinguished lecture symposium Toward a Better Understanding of the Complicated
10The National Association of Geoscience Teachers began in 1938 as the Association of College Geology Teachers.
Earth: Insights from Geologic Research, Education, and Cognitive Science. Also that year, GSA published a special paper volume Earth and Mind: How Geologists Think and Learn About Earth with contributions from master geoscientists, learning scientists, and geoscience educators (Manduca and Mogk, 2006).
The development of venues for publication of GER has paralleled the growth in the field. NAGT launched the Journal of Geology Education (JGE) in 1951. The names of both the organization and the journal were changed from “Geology” to “Geoscience” in 1995 to reflect the broadened scope of the field. For many decades, JGE was primarily a journal for geoscience faculty to exchange teaching ideas and pedagogical content knowledge. In 2001, the journal began a regular column on research in education, applying ideas from other DBER fields to geoscience education. As of 2009, JGE has changed its guidelines for contributors and the review criteria for articles to move toward a journal that publishes a mix of GER and SoTL.
Funding for GER comes primarily from NSF. Within the Directorate for Geosciences, the Geoscience Education Program gives small grants that can be used as seed money for pilot GER projects. Some GER researchers have been funded by NSF’s TUES program for applied research in the context of building educational pedagogy and materials, and from NSF’s Research and Evaluation in Education in Science and Engineering (REESE) Program for more basic research.
The Emergence of Astronomy Education Research
At the collegiate level, astronomy is closely aligned with physics, and the two fields are often part of a combined Department of Physics and Astronomy. As a result, the emergence of astronomy education research (AER) has mirrored the emergence of PER, with about a 20-year lag (Bailey, 2011). The tight connection with physics and with PER, combined with the ability to learn from PER’s experience, has allowed AER to emerge relatively quickly as a separately recognized field. Astronomy education research is generally considered a part of astronomy, and most AER scholars define themselves as astronomers who study education.
Professional societies have played a critical role in the emergence and establishment of AER as a recognized discipline. Position and policy statements in support of PER by the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers led to the development of similar statements about AER by the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in 2002.11 Perhaps more importantly, in 2001, AAS, the Astronomical Society
11The position statement is available at http://aas.org/governance/resolutions.php#edresearch [accessed April 22, 2012].
of the Pacific (ASP), and the National Optical Astronomy Observatories established the Astronomy Education Review—a peer-reviewed journal that archives AER studies and applications to the teaching and learning of astronomy, broadly defined. At about the same time, AAS and ASP began issuing calls for AER papers to be presented at their meetings and began inviting AER scholars to serve as plenary speakers at their conferences. These developments notwithstanding, AER still is frequently published in PER-dominated journals and presented at PER-dominated professional conferences.
AER is funded by the same sources as PER. Research centers for AER, such as CAPER (the Center for Astronomy and Physics Education Research), and Ph.D. training programs are only just beginning to have consistent prominence and funding streams. Most contemporary AER scholars are border crossers from traditional astronomy research into education research or came from PER Ph.D. programs that include astronomy. Postdoctoral training has played a role in retraining astronomers as AER scholars. Based on the committee’s knowledge of the initial placement of recent graduates of AER Ph.D. programs, most AER scholars pursue faculty positions at colleges or universities that focus on teaching rather than research.
The brief histories presented in the previous sections reveal some of the similarities and differences across the fields that comprise DBER. This section addresses the current status of the DBER fields, with an emphasis on individuals and programs housed in disciplinary departments. Our discussion is guided by a taxonomy developed by Fensham (2004) through his analysis of the emergence of science education research.
Fensham’s taxonomy includes three major categories that were adapted from the natural sciences: outcome, research, and structure. Outcome refers to the implications of research for practice. The research category emphasizes the nature of the research in the field, including both methodology and theoretical frame. Structure focuses on the research and training infrastructure of the field. For each category, Fensham outlines criteria that can be used to characterize the state of the field. For outcome he posits a single criterion, namely implications for practice. Historical analysis of DBER fields supports this outcome as the original motivation for DBER. For research, the criteria include sufficient scientific or engineering knowledge to conduct the study, distinctive questions, conceptual and theoretical development, research methodologies, progression in the research over time, model publications with clear methodologies, and seminal publications that further
Structural criteria include programs of training in the specialty, academic recognition, research journals, professional associations, research conferences, and research centers. Although each of the DBER fields in this report has grown to its current level of maturity along a unique trajectory, most now show evidence of meeting Fensham’s structural criteria. We elaborate on the structural criteria here because they offer a useful framework for creating a more coherent picture of the current status of DBER across the fields of physics education research, chemistry education research, engineering education research, biology education research, geoscience education research, and astronomy education research.
Fensham’s (2004) definition of academic recognition is having faculty at the full professor level within the field. As noted in the previous sections, all of the DBER fields have achieved this goal.
The DBER fields vary in terms of acceptance and awareness of what faculty with DBER specialties can contribute to a department. The committee found very little published research on this phenomenon. However, a series of papers on Science Faculty with Education Specialties (SFES) of the California State University system illustrates the challenges some faculty encounter (Bush et al., 2006, 2008, 2011). In this research, SFES self-identified, and 58 percent reported being engaged in science education research. Thus this group includes some DBER scholars, but is not representative of the DBER community. The challenges that SFES face in the California State University system include access to departmental resources and demands on their time for teaching, unusually high expectations for transforming department-wide teaching, and other departmental service. DBER scholars in other settings may, or may not, face similar challenges, depending on their context.
More generally, institutions do not always recognize the distinction between education specialists whose primary focus is on teaching and DBER scholars who conduct research on teaching and learning. A review of some DBER-related academic job offerings in 2011 (CER Listserv12), and of other discussions concerning hiring of DBER scholars (Bauer et al., 2008) echo the theme that disciplinary departments still have diverse, competing, and sometimes imbalanced expectations for teaching, research, and service.
Because DBER is inherently interdisciplinary, conducting DBER requires deep knowledge of the content and ways of knowing in the science or engineering discipline and expertise in conducting research about how humans think and learn. Three predominant pathways currently exist for developing expertise to conduct DBER. First, as discussed in previous sections, a growing number of science and engineering departments offer DBER Ph.D. programs. Second, limited numbers of postdoctoral DBER positions are available to provide additional training and experiences for individuals who have DBER Ph.D.s or individuals who have Ph.D.s in one of the traditional science and engineering disciplines. Lastly, border crossers whose Ph.D. and research experience are grounded in a traditional research field within a science discipline (e.g., high-energy particle physics, organic chemistry, developmental biology, or marine geology) can move into DBER through sabbatical opportunities or collaborations (Bodner, 2011). This pathway into DBER is particularly common in newer fields such as biology education research, geoscience education research, engineering education research, and astronomy education research. We discuss each of these pathways in turn.
Formal DBER Graduate Programs
Although formal graduate programs in DBER exist and continue to emerge, they vary considerably in their organization, size, and curricular foci. We define a graduate program as an institutionally recognized program with a coherent set of standards for course requirements, comprehensive examinations, and research. Ideally a program has more than one faculty member. Given the interdisciplinary nature of DBER, some of the affiliated faculty members may be in social science departments (e.g., psychology, cognitive science), or schools of education. Using this definition, it is possible that an institution may grant Ph.D.s in a field of DBER, but not offer a formal doctoral program.
Physics education research programs typically are housed in physics departments, but often have some connection to schools of education. Successful students in both types of departments are generally awarded physics (rather than PER) degrees (Beichner, 2009). Programs in chemistry generally are located within chemistry departments, and students typically are admitted as chemistry graduate students and are awarded chemistry (not CER) degrees.13 By contrast, engineering education programs are found in
13For a listing and description of CER graduate programs, see http://www.users.muohio.edu/bretzsl/gradprograms.html [accessed April 16, 2012].
engineering schools and in schools of education and both kinds of programs can lead to degrees in engineering education research (Lohmann and Froyd, 2011). Engineering education departments that offer graduate degrees are emerging, rather than having separate EER programs within each of the engineering specialty departments. Joint degree programs between colleges of engineering and education, such as at Ohio State University and the University of Michigan, also are gaining ground in EER (Lohmann and Froyd, 2011). A small number of BER doctoral programs are located in biology departments, and a few programs have connections to education departments. In those programs, students are awarded biology (not BER) degrees.14 Geoscience and astronomy departments typically offer Ph.D.s through individual faculty within a disciplinary department, rather than through formal programs (Libarkin, personal communication).15
Graduate education in DBER is itself ripe for further study and exploration. As DBER fields mature, a growing number of researchers have been trained in DBER graduate programs and are now in academic positions. Now is the time to ask questions, not only about the outcomes of a DBER graduate education (job placement, research productivity/contributions, etc.), but also about best practices for educating graduate students in DBER. These studies would be valuable additions to the literature, and could help to guide the development of programs in newer fields such as astronomy, biology, and geoscience education. Broader guidance about supporting and evaluating interdisciplinary research and education at the undergraduate and graduate levels is documented in a National Research Council (National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, 2005) report on facilitating interdisciplinary research.
One important question related to DBER graduate study is where students find employment after completing the Ph.D. doctoral graduates in physics education often take a faculty position immediately after graduation, and the postdoctoral and teaching positions often outnumber the supply of graduates (Beichner, 2009). There is little documentation of whether other DBER fields follow this trend. More work is needed to understand the trajectories of students who complete graduate study in chemistry education research, engineering education research, biology education research, geoscience education research, and astronomy education research.
14For a description of BER graduate programs, see https://saber-biologyeducationresearch.wikispaces.com/Graduate+Programs+in+BER [accessed April 22, 2012].
Postdoctoral DBER Positions
Postdoctoral education is the norm in the sciences and is increasingly prevalent in engineering. Within DBER, postdoctoral experience provides an entry point for individuals with traditional science or engineering graduate degrees to gain expertise in education research, or for individuals with DBER graduate education to develop greater sophistication in this interdisciplinary field. Although a small number of DBER postdoctoral positions arise through individual or institutional grants, no specific funding program currently exists to support DBER postdoctoral fellows. The best insights into postdoctoral positions in DBER can be gleaned from an analysis of the NSF Postdoctoral Fellowships in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Education (PFSMETE) that supported 62 DBER postdoctoral fellows from 1997 to 1999 (Libarkin and Finkelstein, 2011).
Two-year PFSMETE fellowships were awarded to postdoctoral fellows in mathematics, physics, the geosciences, biology, chemistry, and engineering with the explicit goal of fostering boundary crossing in education research, practice and leadership. Libarkin and Finkelstein (2011) point out that ideally, PFSMETE fellows infused educational programs with their own scientific background and simultaneously infused scientific disciplines with tools from education, psychology, and other social sciences. Many fellows had not worked with colleagues in education, psychology, and cognitive science departments before beginning their fellowships. Indeed, interviews with PFSMETE fellows revealed significant rifts that still existed in 2000 between the STEM disciplines and researchers in education departments. Several fellows expressed concern that they were not welcomed by either scientists or educators. Any postdoctoral training program of this type, which seeks to connect distinct research communities, must explicitly acknowledge the divide and build an infrastructure designed to help bridge the differing worlds (Libarkin and Finkelstein, 2011).
Though short-lived, the role of PFSMETE in establishing DBER itself should not be underestimated. At a time when DBER was beginning to emerge within key disciplinary fields, the PFSMETE program provided both the imprimatur of the NSF and the human resources to staff emerging research efforts within DBER. PFSMETE’s ultimate impact on science, education, and the bridges that connect these fields remains to be seen and is the subject of current studies.
In 2011, NSF introduced a new program, Fostering Interdisciplinary Research on Education (FIRE). The program is designed to bring together pairs of scholars, one with STEM expertise and one with education research expertise, in a mentoring relationship. Both participants must have graduate degrees, but unlike PFSMETE, individuals can apply at any point in their
postgraduate career. Thus this program can support both postdoctoral fellows and border crossers, as discussed next.
Although formal graduate programs and postdoctoral fellowships in some fields are educating DBER scholars, many of the established DBER scholars were educated in traditional disciplinary graduate programs and migrated into DBER. Such border crossing is common as any new field develops, especially in the absence of formal programs for graduate students. The proportion of border crossers in each discipline of DBER varies, and quantifying how many self-identified discipline-based education researchers arose through this frontier path is difficult because the relevant data have not been systematically collected or compiled. A clear need exists to follow the academic trajectories of border crossers, as well as those DBER scholars whose graduate training was in a formal DBER program.
DBER demands expertise in the discipline and in education research, which presents challenges and opportunities to designing effective pathways into the field. DBER scholars develop the needed expertise through several different pathways that often, but not always, begin at the graduate or postgraduate rather than the undergraduate level. Currently, graduate study in DBER can be pursued in a limited number of multifaculty graduate programs, and more commonly, departments with individual scholars who support graduate research in a DBER field. Postdoctoral positions provide a mechanism for further education for DBER graduates and for individuals with a traditional science background moving into DBER. Border crossing has been, and continues to be, a common mode of populating DBER fields in their early stages. Border crossers develop expertise through a range of venues, including collaborations and sabbaticals.
Professional Associations and Research Conferences
Graduate and postdoctoral education opportunities within one department at one university are necessary, but not sufficient, to establish the identity of a new discipline. As discussed under “The Emergence of DBER,” each DBER field has one or more professional organizations that support education research through policy statements, publication venues, and conference sections. Many of these professional homes are sections of larger disciplinary professional societies. For example, the American Chemical Society’s Division of Chemical Education has a Chemical Education
Research Committee. Within the American Society for Engineering Education, the Educational Research and Methods Division supports EER. The numerous biology professional societies support education research to varying degrees, while SABER encompasses all fields of biology with a singular focus on BER. These disciplinary networks facilitate communication among DBER scholars within the disciplines.
However, there are very few formal ways for DBER scholars from different disciplines to interact with each other at the national level. For some DBER scholars, the National Association for Research on Science Teaching and the American Educational Research Association provide more general venues, and could be the sites of cross-disciplinary interaction.
The role of conferences on science and engineering education in supporting the growth of DBER and disseminating DBER findings has not been the subject of a formal research study. Yet these events (sometimes sponsored through disciplinary societies, sometimes as independent initiatives funded through federal grants) are potentially important ways to attract scholars into DBER and provide a venue for DBER scholars to engage with peers.
Although conferences to present recent research findings are plentiful and readily accessible to DBER scholars, journal publication can present challenges for some discipline-based education researchers. Some tension exists between publication venues that are intended to share research findings among researchers and venues that are intended to inform instructors of the findings of DBER that might be useful in their classrooms. Publications intended for practitioners to support change in classroom teaching generally earn less professional recognition than research-focused journals and may have lower standards for the rigor of the research. High-quality research papers published in journals that practitioners are less likely to read may have less influence on classroom culture. The tension is unavoidable in fields that cover the spectrum from applied to basic research on the learning and teaching of undergraduate science and engineering.
Journal impact factors—or how frequently a journal has been cited in a given period of time—provide another perspective on the current state of DBER journals. However, they are influenced by the tension noted above. Most DBER-specific journals (e.g., American Journal of Physics, Chemistry Education Research and Practice, Journal of Biological Education, Journal of Chemical Education) have less status, with impact factors below 0.80, or in the case of the Journal of Geoscience Education, are not included in impact factor indices. The Journal of Engineering Education, CBE-Life Sciences Education, and Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education
Research are exceptions; in these journals, the editorial policy is tipped toward the researcher as opposed to the instructor who uses DBER findings in the classroom. A number of general education and science education journals that are potential venues for publishing DBER papers (e.g., American Educational Research Journal, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Journal of the Learning Sciences, Learning and Instruction, Cognition and Instruction, Review of Educational Research, Science Education) have considerably higher impact factors (1.6-2.4).
Discipline-based education researchers might encounter close scrutiny regarding the prestige of their field’s journals. Faculty who are not yet tenured may question the merit of submitting manuscripts to journals with impact factors significantly lower than those in which their disciplinary peers are publishing. Potential consumers or evaluators of the research may conclude that the results from studies published in such journals are not of high quality. The fact that there is an education research journal that is part of the highly respected Physical Review series has been seen as an important advancement of the field of PER. Likewise, the decision at Science, which has an impact factor above 30, to publish papers on education is a significant advancement for all DBER fields.
The last of Fensham’s (2004) structural criteria is research centers, defined as nuclei of established scholars with funding to specifically support their research. In Fensham’s view, research centers are important because they provide the intellectual community to advance research and training in the field. The inherent tension in DBER between advancing research and applying research findings to improve education is reflected in the status of research centers.
The most common situation across the fields of DBER is for a disciplinary department to have one discipline-based education researcher on the faculty. Within a few universities, organizational structures or centers support DBER scholars and foster DBER scholarship, for example, the Center for Research on College Science Teaching at Michigan State University and the Center for Research and Engagement in Science and Mathematics Education at Purdue University.
While centers devoted exclusively to DBER are rare, education centers (centers for learning and teaching) focused on improving undergraduate education have provided sites for faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students to engage with DBER and related research. For example, in engineering education, the first NSF-funded “center” for engineering research with a focus on engineering education was established in 1999. Since that time more than a dozen additional centers have been established
around the country, coordinated through the National Academy of Engineering-supported Center for Advancement of Scholarship on Engineering Education (Lohman and Froyd, 2011). These centers provide some support and community for scholars migrating into engineering education, and strongly support effective teaching.
While most centers are located at large universities, the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) located at Carleton College is unique in serving as a physical and a virtual center, connecting colleges and universities across the country where geoscience is taught (Manduca et al., 2010).16 With a hybrid mission to support the use of education research in practice and to engage in DBER, SERC provides educational experiences for postdoctoral fellows and border crossers. It also hosts the InTeGrate STEP center, which is developing research-based undergraduate curricula in the geosciences and studying student learning on the campuses of multiple partners.
Centers supporting the scholarship of teaching and learning on university campuses could help to create a pathway for the migration of faculty and graduate students into DBER. Examples include institutions in the NSF-funded Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) network.17 On these campuses, CIRTL engages graduate and postdoctoral students and faculty members in the exploration of best practices for undergraduate teaching and learning in science and engineering. The Science Education Initiatives at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the University of British Columbia18 promote collaborative DBER across five science departments in a variety of ways, including through the education of postdoctoral science teaching fellows. These fellows come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds but share an interest in making DBER at least a part of their future careers (see Chapter 8 for more details).
Although most DBER is housed within single academic departments, DBER is also conducted by interdisciplinary teams. It can take a considerable amount of time and effort for interdisciplinary teams with professional expertise across several disciplines (e.g., chemistry, biology, computer science, and cognitive science) to establish common ground and become productive, but such teams can be instrumental in attacking some of the larger problems in human learning faced by the science disciplines. Indeed, several of the commissioned papers for this committee’s work noted the
importance of interdisciplinary collaborations for advancing their field of DBER (Docktor and Mestre, 2011; Svinicki, 2011).
Interdisciplinary teams are currently active in most of the DBER fields studied in this report. At Clemson University, for example, a department of engineering and science education has been established to facilitate interdisciplinary work; that department offers a Ph.D. in engineering and science education. As another example, geoscientists identified spatial reasoning as a key area of research for geoscience education research and initiated collaborative work with cognitive scientists (Kastens and Ishikawa, 2006; Manduca, Mogk, and Stillings, 2004; National Research Council, 2006). Collaborations across DBER fields, however, are less common. One example is a joint effort between the geoscientists at Carleton College’s Science Education Research Center and a group of biology education researchers working on genomics education curriculum development and research.19 Additionally, the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS)—initially developed to measure novice-to-expert-like perceptions in physics learners—was adapted for chemistry and biology learners as a result of collaborations among DBER groups at the University of Colorado and the University of British Columbia (Semsar et al., 2011).
Pathways to establish interdisciplinary research are not straight-forward (National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, 2005). A few NSF programs (Research Initiation Grants in Engineering Education, REESE, FIRE) offer funding to promote the development of such teams, but interdisciplinary research is risky. Tenure and promotion committees may not take into account the time and energy necessary to become acculturated into a new field. This situation poses particular challenges for nontenured faculty in DBER to engage in interdisciplinary research (Rhoten and Parker, 2004). The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine (2005) identify some of these challenges and discuss changes needed in the policies that govern hiring, promotion, tenure, and resource allocation to facilitate successful interdisciplinary collaboration.
These brief histories of the fields that comprise DBER, together with the analysis using Fensham’s structural criteria, offer insights into how DBER has developed. Each DBER field is anchored within the parent discipline but varies in the extent to which it is recognized as a fully fledged subdiscipline. In addition, the fields of DBER have engaged in only limited interaction with each other. As a result, DBER as a whole is an area of
study, but at this point cannot lay claim to being a field in the way that the individual DBER fields can. The newer DBER fields are emerging in a more purposeful way by leveraging prior work in physics education research and, particularly in the case of engineering education research and geoscience education research, working collaboratively with cognitive scientists and other social scientists.
Although multiple pathways to becoming a DBER scholar are, and will likely continue to be the norm, careful attention to what constitutes quality education in DBER at the graduate and postdoctoral levels is needed because professional standards of preparation within communities are nascent. There is almost no research tracking the success of DBER graduates, and none at all relating the professional success of DBER scholars to the nature of their backgrounds and preparation. To date, little attention has been directed on preparing undergraduate students for DBER careers or even making undergraduates aware that DBER exists. Sufficient, rigorous preparation in the science or engineering discipline and education research presents a challenge.
Professional societies have a role to play in both establishing and disseminating professional standards, as is happening in physics education research and chemistry education research. Biology education research faces the particular challenge of communicating with more than 100 professional biological research societies within the United States. The formation of SABER, which cuts across the biological subfields, should attenuate this disparity with its singular focus on education research.
Funding for research and training is uneven across the fields of DBER. DBER scholars receive funding from a mix of sources: those that are dedicated to research in the parent discipline and those that are dedicated to research on teaching and learning more broadly. The relative proportion of funding from each of these sources varies across the fields of DBER.
The analysis using two of Fensham’s structural criteria—journals and research centers—reflects the predictable tension in DBER between advancing the research itself and increasing the use of DBER findings. Education research centers, funding programs, and some journals blend both goals. As in any discipline, DBER scholars strive for high quality research, which will be evaluated more fully in subsequent chapters of this report. Many DBER scholars, their disciplinary colleagues, their professional societies, and funding agencies are motivated by the critical need to reform science and engineering education informed by DBER findings. Clearly articulating the distinction between discipline-based education research and the application of DBER findings—and embracing the value of both—is important for ensuring continued advancement of the research, promoting improvement in undergraduate education, and enhancing synergies between the efforts.
• Discipline-based education research (DBER) is a small but growing field of inquiry. At this time, most efforts to develop and advance DBER as a whole are taking place at the level of the individual fields of DBER.
• Across the disciplines in this study, DBER is in different stages of development. DBER scholars and the individual fields of DBER have made notable inroads in terms of establishing their fields but still face challenges in doing so.
• DBER is inherently interdisciplinary, and the blending of a scientific or engineering discipline with education research poses unique professional challenges for DBER scholars.
• There are many pathways to becoming a discipline-based education researcher. At the time of this study, many established DBER scholars were trained in traditional disciplinary graduate programs and migrated into DBER. These border crossers are particularly common in the fields of biology education research, geoscience education research, and astronomy education research.
• Conducting DBER and using DBER findings are distinct but interdependent pursuits.
• Education research centers enable faculty to use DBER findings, introduce students to DBER as a career option, and support collaborations among faculty. Few of these centers currently exist, and even fewer have a singular focus on DBER.