Research conducted across all disciplines, not just STEM, indicates that the faculty behaviors and characteristics that have a significant effect on student engagement include active and collaborative learning techniques, communicating high expectations to students, course-related student-faculty interactions, and an emphasis on enriching educational experiences (Umbach and Wawrzynski, 2005). Thus, the educational context created
by faculty behaviors and attitudes affect student learning and engagement. Two key features of the educational context are the instructional strategies and classroom environments that students encounter. Addressing curriculum and classroom concerns is a necessary component in any undergraduate STEM education effort. In this chapter, we focus on the barriers and opportunities to improving STEM teaching practices. In doing so, we describe the role that faculty, departments, and institutions can play in instructional reform. We also point to a set of strategies, beyond curricular reform, that can support persistence and completion of STEM credentials.
Throughout the chapter, we stress that instructional reform is not sufficient in and of itself. The learning environment, the culture of a department, the need for community, and the other factors described in Chapter 3 also play crucial roles. For example, Ko and colleagues (2014) have found that the messages that women of color often receive—directly or indirectly—from their academic settings (e.g., interactions with faculty, advisor, and peers; structure of departments; and classroom norms) convey low expectations, stereotypical views, and benign racism/sexism. Additionally, as is discussed later in the report, the policies that shape actions by faculty, departments, and institutions are also critical elements in creating an environment that can support success in STEM for all students by addressing cultural, instructional, and institutional policy barriers.
Instructional strategies in undergraduate STEM classrooms matter. The most comprehensive meta-analysis to date illustrates that students learn more in STEM classrooms where instructors use active learning strategies rather than traditional lecturing (Freeman et al., 2014). A review of discipline-based education by the National Research Council (2012) revealed similar findings: that traditional lectures are less effective then evidence-based instructional strategies at improving conceptual knowledge and attitudes about learning STEM. The report illustrated that evidence-based instructional strategies include a range of approaches, including making lectures more interactive, having students work in groups, providing formative feedback, and incorporating authentic problems and activities. In particular, the report emphasizes that instructors’ clarifying and facilitating student conceptual understanding is relevant across all STEM fields. While approaches to problem solving differ across fields, most research indicates that authentic problems and appropriately sequenced experiences are important for student learning of core concepts in STEM (National Research Council, 2012).
The National Research Council’s report (2012) also found that active instructional strategies supported all students’ STEM learning, and they
especially supported learning among underrepresented students. Research on an active-learning intervention in physics and biology illustrates the disproportionally positive effect of a moderately structured intervention on black and first-generation college students (Beichner et al., 2007; Eddy and Hogan, 2014): the achievement gap between black and white students was halved, and the achievement gap between first-generation and other students was eliminated.
More nuanced studies are now being funded to identify the elements of successful instruction and how the elements may differ across groups (Eddy and Hogan, 2014). Even with more nuanced evidence, evidence-based approaches to teaching may be difficult to implement (National Research Council, 2012; Freeman et al., 2014; Eddy and Hogan, 2014). The complexity of the demands of faculty work in the 21st century, regardless of institution type, creates challenges to changing approaches to teaching.
To understand how teaching approaches are developed and codified, it is important to understand that teaching practices are situated in the context of departments and disciplinary norms, perceptions of how students learn, faculty values, pedagogical strategies, and faculty views of the impact of their teaching choices (Austin, 2011). Cultivating change in teaching practice is not as simple as demonstrating research evidence of instructional effectiveness: it also has to be linked to faculty experience, appointment type, disciplinary understanding, and departmental culture (Austin, 2011). In this section, we focus specifically on the nature of research-based STEM instructional strategies and the barriers and opportunities to implementing and sustaining this kind of instruction.
Significant resources have been invested in disseminating “best practices” in instruction (for an overview, see National Research Council, 2012, 2013). Disciplinary societies have made resources for improving teaching available to faculty through online archives or warehouses such as COMPADRE in physics (Mason, 2007) and the Advance Technology Education Program’s National Resource Center;1 an increasing number of disciplinary-based journals offer peer-reviewed research about effective practices; and a number of professional organizations make available professional development opportunities for faculty to learn about and practice new pedagogies (see Hilborn, 2013). The field of chemistry has been particularly successful in the application of socially mediated teaching and learning as evidenced by Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) and Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL), both of which use small groups of peer-led teams in problem solving.2 There are barriers associated with these dissemination efforts, but they offer a clear opportunity for
faculty to learn about and adopt research-based instruction in most STEM disciplines. See Appendix A for an overview of some current instructional reform efforts in STEM fields.
Teaching, research, and service represent the traditional three-legged stool that defines faculty work. The specific context within which this work is carried out is related to faculty decision making and practice relative to their allocation of time and effort. Institutional context, departmental structure and leadership, institutional incentives, and professional development opportunities determine faculty motivation to consider evidence-based approaches to teaching and student learning rather than their own experiences and department tradition.
According to a survey conducted during the 2013–2014 academic year, faculty, including faculty in STEM departments, have increased their use of evidence-based instructional strategies (Eagan et al., 2014). Full-time faculty reported that over the past 25 years, they increased their use of classroom discussions (from 70% to just over 80%), of group projects (from under 20% to 45%), of cooperative learning (from about 25% to 61%), and of student evaluation of each other’s work (from about 10% to over 40%). However, 51 percent of full-time faculty continue extensive use of lecturing. There are a handful of studies of the instructional strategies in two STEM disciplines: physics and engineering. These studies indicate that widespread changes have not been adopted (Borrego et al., 2010; Henderson, 2008; Henderson and Dancy, 2009; Henderson et al., 2012; Prince et al., 2013). For example, a survey of physics faculty revealed that one-third of physics faculty do not use any evidence-based instructional strategies, one-third use one or two strategies, and one-third use at least three strategies (Henderson et al., 2012). A survey of engineering departments indicates that awareness of evidence-based teaching strategies is much higher than adoption (82% and 47% respectively) (Borrego et al., 2010). The results of these studies should be interpreted with caution, because faculty have been found to over-report their use of evidence-based instructional strategies, and there may be selection bias in which faculty members respond (Dancy and Henderson, 2010; Savkar and Lokere, 2010).
The rate of change in instructional strategies can be understood in terms of a set of barriers faced by the academic STEM community. The most general set of barriers is related to the lack of institutional incentives that faculty members have to adopting research-based instructional strategies or more innovative curricular programs. Such barriers as research time
versus teaching time, faculty workloads, and resources can affect faculty decisions to invest in new teaching practices (Fairweather, 2008).
The preparation and professional development related to instructional strategies that STEM instructors have received can also be a barrier to implementing evidence-based strategies. Faculty members bring to their work a socialization that occurs during graduate education, particularly with respect to their identities as teachers and scholars (Austin, 2010). Centers for teaching and learning have been developed to provide collaborative networks across institutions. For example, the Center for Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL), which is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), emphasizes preparing STEM future faculty to bring their scholarship to teaching and develop learning communities for professional development at both the institutional and national levels. CIRTL has also recognized the importance of learning skills that leverage the increasing student diversity in STEM classrooms and research environments as a mechanism to enhance educational excellence.3
Often, the approaches used to encourage faculty to adopt research-based curricula have not been effective. In the “develop and disseminate” model of change identified by Dancy and Henderson (2010), faculty members are expected to consider adopting a research-based curriculum on the basis of attending a 1-day workshop or other relatively short-time dissemination efforts. The National Science Foundation and other granting agencies previously supported this approach by often requiring the grantees to run workshops on developed curricula or carry out other forms of dissemination (Seymour, 2001). Although a very large number of STEM faculty members may have attended a dissemination workshop, it has not correlated with a large move toward adoption of STEM educational reforms (Borrego and Henderson, 2014; Henderson, 2008; Henderson et al., 2011). The National Science Foundation has moved away from the “develop and disseminate” approach in its recent program solicitations (e.g., Transforming Undergraduate Science Education, and Course Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement).
More successful approaches to training faculty, such as summer institutes and new faculty workshop series are now being implemented. One of the longest running new faculty professional development workshops is Project NExT (New Experiences in Teaching),4 run by the Mathematical Association of America. Since 1994, it has served more than 1,500 new mathematics faculty. The 2-year program provides new faculty with a series of teaching workshops and a network of peer mentors. Another program
4 For more information, see http://www.maa.org/programs/faculty-and-departments/project-next [July 2015].
is run by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT),5 which has workshops for physics, astronomy, and engineering faculty (Felder and Brent, 2010) that provide new faculty with the opportunity to exchange experiences and tools.
In general, effective faculty development workshops incorporate content drawn from discipline-specific education research, involve discipline-specific educators as facilitators or co-facilitators, and address a need for sustainable support (Felder et al., 2011). For example, at AAPT’s new faculty workshop, a small number of techniques that have proven to be effective in a variety of environments are presented. The workshops are meant to focus on tactics that can be implemented with minimal time and effort, thus allowing new faculty to better balance their teaching, research, and scholarship. In 2014, the workshops covered such topics as interactive lectures, peer instruction, just-in-time teaching, research in physics education, problem solving, and teaching for retention and diversity. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine also have partnered to run summer institutes to develop the teaching skills of faculty and instructional staff.6
The NSF’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) Program has generated a wide range of professional development resources for instructors involved in technician education, including problem-based learning, linkages with industry, career exploration and advising, and instructing diverse student groups. One ATE-supported effort, TeachTechnicians.org, increases access to and participation in faculty professional development: it is designed to be a one-stop shop for professional development opportunities provided by ATE grantees and others. The site provides ATE grantees a central place to announce and promote professional development events. It also provides grantees with access to expertise, vetted resources, and successful practices that they can use to improve technician education at their institution.
Even among those who have adopted new approaches, sustainability can be an issue. A study of research-based instructional strategies in introductory physics classrooms during fall 2008 found that long-term adoption of such strategies is hampered by discontinued funding for curriculum reform efforts and insufficient support from colleagues during implementations (Henderson et al., 2012). Research is needed to assess whether these factors are also barriers to adoption in other STEM fields.
Once a faculty member has decided to implement research-based instruction, she or he faces multiple barriers to implementing the instruction
5 For more information, see http://www.aapt.org/conferences/newfaculty/nfw.cfm [May 2015].
with fidelity. Beyond awareness of and familiarity with the instructional strategy, an individual faculty member is often not fully aware of all the elements required for successful implementation. These might include skills in guiding student discourse (Duschl, 2002), engaging in the appropriate form of dialogue with the students, and avoiding microaggressions and implicit bias (Cohen et al., 1999; Hurtado et al., 2011; Nadal et al., 2014). Faculty members may also face situational-based barriers (Henderson, 2008), including not being able to cover as much content as when lecturing, possibly needing more tutorial sections, and scheduling constraints due to the need for particular classrooms that support collaborative work (see Box 4-1
for an overview of research on classroom design). In addition, a study of calculus instruction (Bressoud et al., 2013) indicates that it may be more difficult for faculty who do not employ good general instructional practices to shift to active instructional strategies because students sometimes are unhappy with and resist such strategies. Finally, faculty members who choose to make significant curricular changes without a support network of local colleagues and their departments are at an immediate disadvantage (Beach et al., 2012).
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (2012) and others (see, for example, Kuh, 2008) have stressed that exposure to authentic STEM experiences, including research, is a key aspect in improving persistence and completion. Authentic undergraduate STEM experiences can involve hypothesis-driven, hands-on experimentation in which the outcome is unknown, peer-to-peer support, faculty-student interactions, and academic support. Students can be exposed to authentic STEM experiences in myriad ways, but typically students are provided such experiences via course-based opportunities to do investigations or by participating in a faculty’s research laboratory.
Classroom-based strategies that engage students in authentic STEM experiences are in line with evidence-based instructional strategies that require moving away from lectures and recipe-based laboratory exercises toward more open-ended and student-driven STEM experiences (National Research Council, 2012). Evidence exists on the value of integrating authentic STEM experiences via undergraduate research and project-based laboratories (National Research Council, 2012; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2012; Weaver et al., 2008). Such activities can be included in the curriculum of the undergraduate STEM laboratory or structured research programs, such as the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) Program or Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC), which are supported by the National Institutes of Health (Eagan et al., 2013).
Undergraduate research programs and internships may be particularly important for students from underrepresented groups since they may facilitate students’ identities as scientists and engineers (Eagan et al., 2013). Authentic experiences may also involve opportunities to work on industry-related projects, as in the successful engineering clinic program at Harvey Mudd College.7 Begun in 1963, the program has become an integral part of the college’s engineering program and involves undergraduates at all levels.
It engages small groups of undergraduate students working on industry-sponsored design projects.
In 2015, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine organized a convocation to explore many aspects of the opportunities and challenges of introducing various models of discovery-based approaches to STEM education into undergraduate curricula.8 Another committee is currently conducting a consensus study on these issues, with a report expected in 2016.
The nature of faculty appointments is also a factor in the learning environment that STEM students encounter. Both NSF and the U.S. Department of Education collect data on undergraduate faculty including faculty in STEM departments, but information on nontenure-track faculty and staff has not been available since the Department of Education discontinued the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty in 2004. However, studies of undergraduate STEM instructors and surveys of instruction conducted by disciplinary societies provide a partial picture of the contributions of tenured, tenure-track, and nontenure-track faculty and staff to student’s learning.
The continuing change in balance from permanent tenure-track appointments that include all aspects of faculty work—teaching, research, and service—to nontenure-track, fixed-term, contingent, and part-time positions that emphasize only instruction may in effect marginalize the significance of teaching (Austin, 2011). This shift may convey the idea that teaching is less important than the other aspects of faculty work and disconnect teaching from research and the culture and community of the field.
Instructors with different types of appointments are teaching major parts of the undergraduate curriculum across all disciplines, even at the important introductory level (Baldwin and Wawrzynski, 2011). Teaching practices of part-time contingent faculty differ from those of other faculty. In a study of faculty at 4-year institutions from all academic departments, part-time faculty interacted with students less often, used active and collaborative instructional strategies less frequently, had lower academic expectations, and spent less time preparing for classes than did full-time faculty (both tenure-track and nontenure-track) (Baldwin and Wawrzynski, 2011).
Within STEM disciplines, it has been argued that part-time faculty in introductory gatekeeper courses can affect students’ engagement and persistence. Some believe that students have fewer meaningful interactions with
8 For more information, see http://dels.nas.edu/Past-Events/Convocation-Integrating-Discovery-Based-Research/AUTO-9-90-18-T [July 2015].
part-time faculty, which leads students to be less integrated into academic culture and thus be negatively affected in terms of persistence. Part-time faculty members are typically limited in their ability to engage students in research experiences, because of time constraints and because they do not conduct research at the college or university. One study by Eagan and Jaeger (2008) found that students were significantly and negatively affected by having gatekeeper courses taught by part-time faculty.
Community college students enrolled in STEM courses have a high probability of taking courses taught by part-time faculty, and instruction by part-time faculty is negatively correlated with student retention and transfer to a 4-year institution (Jaeger and Eagan, 2009, 2011). Students with greater levels of exposure to part-time faculty are less likely to earn an associate’s degree in comparison with students who do not receive any instruction by part-time faculty (Jaeger and Eagan, 2009). Particularly in the sciences, a first-year student who has spent more than the average amount of time with part-time instructors is less likely to transfer to a 4-year institution than a classmate who has not had a part-time instructor (Jaeger and Eagan, 2011).
The American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Professional Training surveyed chemistry programs at 4-year institutions in 2010 in order to understand the effects of nontenure-track appointments on undergraduate chemistry education (American Chemical Society, 2010).9 The results indicated that 66 percent of general chemistry lecture courses for majors were taught by tenure-track faculty, while just 30 percent of general chemistry lecture courses for nonmajors were taught by tenure-track faculty. A similar trend was found in organic chemistry classes; tenure-track faculty taught 80 percent of courses for majors and they taught 50 percent of courses for nonmajors. In addition, the ACS 2010 report indicates that laboratory instruction was primarily done by contingent chemistry faculty. Trends such as these suggest that primary instruction by nontenure-track faculty who do not have access to ongoing research programs may present a barrier to students interested in furthering their research experience.
Department leadership has the capacity to enhance instructional strategies and support for STEM student learning. The department is the critical unit for change in undergraduate STEM education since it represents not only individual faculty values and aspirations, but also the curriculum as an integral whole beyond individual courses. Departmental commitment is critical for the continuous assessment of teaching practices and support for
9 The survey specifically excluded teaching assistants.
experimentation and innovation. Individual faculty investment in new pedagogical approaches cannot be sustained or spread by itself, and institution-wide programs are often too diluted. The department is the practical unit that can affect change because it has the authority to establish on-campus programs that explicitly recognize high-quality instruction.
There are many “levers” that department leaders can use to drive change, including setting learning goals, adjusting prerequisites, increasing flexibility of class taking, providing incentives and rewards for improved pedagogy, revising teaching assignments, providing support for course redesign, and reviewing when classes are offered. STEM departments can create teaching awards, offer access to the resources and release time needed by faculty to engage in educational endeavors, and provide recognition of those endeavors in promotion and tenure decisions (Brewer and Smith, 2010).
Departmental efforts to create change can be hampered by the lack of data available to inform reform decisions. Without reliable information about where students encounter barriers, the nature of the barriers, and profiles of the students who encounter barriers, it can be difficult for leaders to determine what actions to take. Some universities have begun to address the need for reliable data by partnering with the institutional offices and divisions that have access to student data (i.e., institutional research centers) and by developing easy-to-use data analysis and visualization tools.10
Physics has provided an interesting platform to examine the effectiveness for the department as the unit for change in STEM undergraduate education. A national task force on undergraduate physics through the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, and the American Association of Physics Teachers examined the characteristics of “thriving” departments (Hilborn and Howes, 2003). The common elements across departments included a well-developed curriculum, individualized advising and mentoring, an undergraduate research program or industry-based internships (or both), many opportunities for informal student-faculty interactions, and a strong sense of community supported by departmental leadership across faculty and students. For details on efforts to create and sustain change in undergraduate life science education, see Box 4-2.
In 2007, the American Association for the Advancement of Science hosted a series of regional meetings to discuss what needed to be done to improve undergraduate biology education. The meetings were attended by over 200 biology faculty, college and university administrators, and other undergraduate biology stakeholders. The input from these meetings was used to frame a 2009 national conference on undergraduate biology reform.
The conference was attended by over 500 biology faculty, college and university administrators, and other undergraduate biology stakeholders. The conference focused on six major questions: (1) what undergraduates in biology should know and be able to do, (2) how should students be taught, (3) how should learning be assessed, (4) how should professional development of instructors be conducted, (5) what institutional changes are needed, and (6) what tools are needed to facilitate change. The conference yielded the following action steps that biology departments across the country are working to implement (Brewer and Smith, 2010, p. 50):
- Mobilize all stakeholders, from students to administrators, to commit to improving the quality of undergraduate biology education.
- Support the development of a true community of scholars dedicated to advancing the life sciences and the science of teaching.
- Advocate for increased status, recognition, and rewards for innovation in teaching, student success, and other educational outcomes.
- Require graduate students who are on training grants in the biological sciences to participate in training in how to teach biology.
- Provide teaching support and training for all faculty, but especially postdoctoral fellows and early-career faculty, who are in their formative years as teachers.
As outlined by Estrada (2014), co-curricular supports,11 if done well, provide authentic disciplinary experiences while also taking into account the social and relational aspects of learning that have been shown to influence students’ academic engagement and persistence in the sciences (Chang et al., 2011; Kinkead, 2003; Lopatto, 2003). Specifically, co-curricular programming can mitigate the negative psychological and academic impacts of a stigmatizing STEM academic culture by affirming students’ self-perceptions of competence (Gandara and Maxwell-Jolly, 1999; Hurtado et al., 2009; Mabrouk and Peters, 2000) and sense of community in the college setting. Thus, such programming can serve important roles both in promoting motivation and achievement and in protecting students when they experience stigma and exclusion.
STEM faculty members and leaders of co-curricular reforms have to be supported by their departments and institutions through allocation of time, resources, and other types of support. Once STEM reform begins, the need for support continues as the co-curricular reform requires subsequent adaptations and modifications. Payoff in the form of improved learning outcomes may not be apparent in early stages of such efforts but should be expected later. That is, administrators and faculty need to be aware of and accept that a significant proportion of the costs of innovation will be at the beginning and that a sustained effort will be required to support the reform effort over multiple years. Everyone involved in reform efforts needs to have realistic temporal and financial expectations for anticipated outcomes. This section provides a basic overview of key elements in that reform; we provide a detailed discussion of creating and sustaining systemic change in Chapter 6.
As discussed above, internships provide important opportunities for students to have hands-on experiences in their fields. Internships provide an opportunity to expand on the learning community developed in a student’s program through sustained engagement with people working in industry (Eagan, 2013). There is some evidence that participation in an internship is significantly correlated to persistence in undergraduate engineering and computer science (Eagan, 2013). According to Fifolt and Searby (2010, p. 21), “mentoring students and new graduates can provide a bridge be-
11 Co-curricular supports are activities, programs, and learning experiences that complement, in some way, what students are learning in the classroom.
tween theory learned in college and the complex realities of the workforce environment.” When structured properly, internships provide students with this valuable mentorship experience. Internships can be research or design based or focused on working in an organization, catering to the wide array of opportunities that are available to STEM majors and providing students with the option to explore different career paths. Regardless of the type, well-run internships expose students to authentic research or design activities and hands-on experiences through “a mutual process of discovery that occurs through dialogue and activity” (Thiry et al., 2011, p. 361).
Some colleges and universities actively promote such opportunities through partnerships with local companies. For example, when officials at Miami-Dade College proposed a new B.S. degree in information systems technology, they secured an agreement from Florida Power and Light to provide internships to undergraduates in the program.12 Florida Power and Light also provides internships to some students studying for associate’s degrees in electrical power technology.13
Summer bridge programs can enhance the precollege experience of all students, helping them become familiar with STEM-related curricula, academic expectations, program structure, peers and faculty, and career opportunities. Summer bridge programs have been demonstrated to have a positive effect on retention, especially among students from traditionally underrepresented groups (Strayhorn, 2010b). Summer bridge programs that cater to STEM disciplines have been shown to enhance student success (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2012; Gilmer, 2007). To best prepare students to succeed in STEM disciplines, STEM-related summer bridge programs should take a multipronged approach, including a combination of activities and programming that address their “academic, social, and career needs” (Lenaburg et al., 2012, p. 153). Specific elements include an orientation to campus life and resources, an introduction to research activity and presentation, mentoring programs that connect new and prospective students with current students, and a structured session that engages students in career exploration (Lenaburg et al., 2012). Programs that integrate these different elements will provide students not only with a sense of community, but also with the tools necessary to succeed in college.
For example, at North Carolina State University, the Women in Science
12 For details, see http://www.nexteraenergy.com/employeecentral/emp_comm/docs/ENG0509.pdf [April 2015].
13 For details, see https://www.mdc.edu/homestead/pdf/EPT_Program%20Sheet.pdf [April 2015].
and Engineering (WISE) Program14 offers students the chance to move into their dorm rooms a few days early to participate in a summer bridge program. The goal of the program is to provide support for the students that will ease their transition to college. The students participate in group work where they do hands-on activities to stimulate the use of problem-solving skills and creativity. They are assigned an upper-class mentor and engage in discussions about academics and campus life.
Participants in the WISE Summer Bridge are entering members of the WISE Village, a living and learning community designed especially for first- and second-year women majoring in science or engineering at North Carolina State. The WISE Village plans social, educational, and cultural activities to help residents interact with each other and develop a sense of community while exploring some of the opportunities available to them at North Carolina State. In another component of the program, WISE offers free tutoring in calculus, chemistry, and physics, three nights a week in the common dorm, where the students study together with the assistance of their mentors and tutors. An assessment of the WISE Program shows that participants are retained in the sciences and engineering at a higher rate than their non-WISE counterparts (Titus-Becker et al., 2007). Graduation rates of WISE participants could not yet be calculated because 4-year graduate rates on the first cohort were not yet available (the program was in its fifth year at the time the assessment took place).
Many disciplinary professional societies and societies for professionals from underrepresented groups now include student chapters. The student chapters are oriented toward building community among members, connecting members to STEM professionals, and developing members’ disciplinary identity. For example, the National Society for Black Engineers has a collegiate membership15 category that allows student members access to networking, conferences, career fairs, test-preparation workshops, tutoring, and scholarship opportunities. A collegiate membership in the Society of Women Engineers includes access to career guidance, networking events, leadership trainings, and professional development seminars.16 In addition, the Society for the Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) offers student memberships that link students
15 For details, see http://www.nsbe.org/Membership/Membership-Benefits.aspx#.VOY5R_nF-VM [April 2015].
16 For details, see http://societyofwomenengineers.swe.org/membership/benefits-a-discounts/409membership-types/3361-collegiate-membership [May 2015].
to a national network of mentors and peers, provides access to electronic magazines and newsletters of the society, and allows participation at a national conference.17 In addition, some campuses have local student chapters of national organizations, many with active Facebook groups promoting campus meetings and activities.18
Peer tutoring involves people in similar social groupings, who are not professional teachers, working together to learn. Traditionally, peer tutoring has been thought of as a knowledgeable student transmitting knowledge to a less knowledgeable student. A wide range of peer-tutoring formats has developed over the past decade. Peer-tutoring formats vary across a number of dimensions, including the ratio of tutors to tutees, ability or knowledge of the tutor and tutee, and the amount of tutoring time (Topping, 1996). There is substantial evidence on the effectiveness of the various formats of peer tutoring (Topping, 1996), for both the tutor and the tutee (Annis, 1983; Benware and Deci, 1984) in terms of academic achievement (American River College, 1993; Lidren et al., 1991), self-efficacy (Schunk, 1987), and motivation (Schunk, 1987).
For example, California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM) operates a 35 hour-a-week drop-in STEM tutoring center.19 Undergraduate tutors in math and science support students enrolled in lower-division gateway STEM courses. The STEM tutoring program at CSUSM benefits both tutors and students. For students seeking assistance, the tutors provide timely course-related assistance. Tutors also encourage students to work together, fostering a sense of community. This can help students establish peer networks that persist beyond the tutoring center and may form the basis of informal student learning communities (Cooper, 2010). For tutors, tutoring provides flexible employment for high-achieving upper-division science and mathematics majors. In addition to deepening their own content knowledge, tutors develop communication skills and gain an appreciation for teaching and learning that is applicable to graduate school and future careers (Arco-Tirado et. al., 2011; Topping, 1996).
18 For examples, see http://societyofwomenengineers.swe.org/membership/benefits-a-discounts #activePanels_0 [May 2015] and http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/students/college/studentaffiliates.html, and https://awis.site-ym.com/?ChapterDuesList [May 2015].
To address the connection between successful transition to college and students’ engagement with and connection to their college community (see Astin, 1984; Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005), an increasing number of institutions have created living-learning programs. Living-learning programs cluster students with shared academic goals or focus in residential communities (Shapiro and Levine, 1990). Four major types of learning communities have been identified: paired or clustered courses; cohorts in large courses or first-year interest groups; team-taught courses; and residential learning communities (Inkelas et al., 2008; Shapiro and Levine, 1990).
Living-learning programs at several campuses have been correlated to positive transition to college and positive academic outcomes (Pike, 1999; Pike et al., 1997; Stassen, 2003). The strength of the evidence varies by the type of living-learning communities, type of institution, discipline, and student characteristics. Successful living-learning programs tend to share three characteristics: a strong presence and partnership with the institutions’ student and academic affairs; clear learning objectives with a strong academic focus; and flexibility to capitalize on learning opportunities wherever and whenever they occur (Brower and Inkelas, 2010). In a review of the effects of living-learning programs on women seeking a STEM degree (Inkelas et al., 2008), no clear pattern was seen. However, women in STEM-focused programs did rate their residential environments as more academically and socially supportive than women not in those programs, and they rated their sense of belonging and self-confidence higher than did their counterparts.
One example of a STEM-focused living-learning program that illustrates how institutions are implementing such programs is the Living-Learning Community for Women in STEM at the Douglass College of Rutgers University.20 As part of this program, women studying STEM live in the same residential hall. The residents are provided access to peer study groups, academic and professional development seminars, internship opportunities, roundtable discussions with faculty, and a resource library. In addition, a one-credit course on careers in STEM is required of students in the program. All participants are expected to meet regularly with a graduate mentor and actively participate in learning opportunities in the residence hall.
20 For details, see https://douglass.rutgers.edu/bunting-cobb-residence-hall-living-learning-community-women-stem-0 [April 2015].
Programs, such as the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, have been lauded for addressing the social and relational aspects of STEM learning. These programs usually provide a range of co-curricular supports to students, as well as implementing changes in classroom instructional practices, changing expectations of faculty for students from underrepresented minorities, and building state-of-the art learning facilities.
The Meyerhoff Scholarship Program began in 1988 with funding from Robert and Jane Meyerhoff and the leadership of then provost (later president) Freeman Hrabowski. Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institutes of Health later provided funding as well. The initial goal of the program was to provide financial assistance, mentoring, advising, and research experience to highly qualified black male undergraduate students committed to obtaining Ph.D. degrees in mathematics, science, and engineering.21 In 1990, the program was expanded to include black female students, and it was opened up to male and female students of all backgrounds in 1996. According to its website, the program operates on the “premise that, among like-minded students who work closely together, positive energy is contagious. By assembling such a high concentration of high-achieving students in a tightly knit learning community, students continually inspire one another to do more and better.”22
All incoming Meyerhoff Scholars attend an accelerated 6-week residential program, called summer bridge. The idea of the summer bridge is to teach students about the program and its approach, as well as to provide tools and skills that will help them in their first semester of college. During the summer, students take for-credit courses in calculus and black studies, as well as noncredit courses in chemistry, physics, study skills, and time management. Courses are designed to demonstrate the rigors of college-level instruction and to help students learn how to meet higher standards of performance.
The program focuses heavily on pushing students toward a goal of achieving a Ph.D. The oversight of Meyerhoff Scholars is highly structured, with frequent advising on academics, preparation for graduate and professional school, and assistance with any personal issues that may interfere with school. Students are encouraged to seek not just the A grades, but high–A grades. Advisors, mentors, and peer coaches discuss values, such as outstanding academic achievement, seeking help (tutoring, advising) from a
22 For details, see http://www.umbc.edu/Programs/Meyerhoff/about_the_program.html [April 2015].
variety of sources, and supporting one’s peers. Students are told repeatedly that nothing is impossible if they try hard enough.
The program has identified 13 key components to their success: recruitment, financial aid, summer bridge, study groups, program values, program community, tutoring, advising and counseling, professional and faculty mentors, summer research internships, faculty involvement, administrative involvement, and family involvement.23 All Meyerhoff Scholars are expected to begin participating in research early in their college careers. Since 1993, the program has graduated over 900 students. As of January 2015, the program has achieved the following results:
- Alumni from the program have earned 209 Ph.D.s, which includes 43 M.D./Ph.D.s, 1 D.D.S./Ph.D., and 1 D.V.M./Ph.D. Graduates have also earned 239 master’s degrees, as well as 107 M.D. degrees. Meyerhoff graduates have received these degrees from many top institutions, including the University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, New York University, Rice, Stanford, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, University of Pittsburgh, and Yale.
- More than 300 alumni are currently enrolled in graduate and professional degree programs.
- An additional 270 students were enrolled in the program for the 2015–2016 academic year, of whom 51 percent were black, 15 percent were white, 15 percent were Asian, 12 percent were Hispanic, and 1 percent were Native American.
- Meyerhoff Scholars were 5.3 times more likely to have graduated from or be currently attending a STEM Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. program than those students who were invited to join the program but declined and attended another university.
In spring 2014, Howard Hughes Medical Institute agreed that it would fund a 5-year partnership between University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and the Pennsylvania State University, University Park to help faculty members and administrators document crucial aspects of the program in order to provide guidance for those seeking to replicate it.
Students encounter STEM through the environment of a specific department and discipline as reflected in the curriculum, classroom, laboratory, and research experience. They also encounter the environment of STEM through interactions with faculty, staff, and peers, unrelated to instruction, as well as in the expectations, behaviors, and beliefs of those around them. Based on the nature of these interactions, students can be led either to adoption of a STEM identity and to finding and thriving in a STEM community where there is affirmation and support, or they can be pushed into isolation, disaffection, or abandonment of their goals in STEM.
Instructional strategies that have demonstrated efficacy regardless of discipline include more time with students engaged in active learning, and the use of formative assessment and feedback. Significant resources have been invested in disseminating effective practices. There is emerging evidence on the rate of change. Existing evidence makes it difficult to know what percentage of classrooms or departments have adopted effective classroom strategies. However, we do know that the nature of faculty appointments is associated with the learning environment that STEM students encounter. Teaching strategies of part-time contingent faculty are less likely to reflect the qualities of effective instructional strategies, in comparison to tenured or tenure-track faculty. In addition, changes in instructional strategies can be difficult due to a lack of institutional incentives for faculty to change their instructional strategies, minimal time to research and implement evidence-based strategies, and a lack of resources to invest in evidence-based strategies.
Although classroom reform, co-curricular programming, or integrative reforms can address the normative STEM culture that sends negative messages to students, especially to women and those from underrepresented minority groups, about their ability and belonging in the disciplines, students also face barriers to earning a STEM degree that arise from departmental, institutional, and national policies. Awareness of these barriers has become increasingly acute as the ways that students navigate the higher education system have become increasingly complex.
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