A Goal and an Agenda For Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology
Based on research and extensive dialogue with representatives of many sectors of the SME&T higher education community, the members of the Committee on Undergraduate Science Education (CUSE) call for the following to become a primary goal of individual institutional efforts to reform SME&T undergraduate education:
Institutions of higher education should provide diverse opportunities for all undergraduates to study science, mathematics, engineering, and technology as practiced by scientists and engineers, and as early in their academic careers as possible.
This statement explicitly includes students who do not plan to declare majors in the natural sciences, mathematics, or engineering and is meant to give special emphasis to those students who will become teachers of science and mathematics for grades K-12. It implies that changes necessary to the improvement of undergraduate SME&T education must begin with a reexamination and fundamental restructuring of introductory and lower level courses and programs at both two- and four-year postsecondary institutions. Achieving lasting reform at any level in education is an exceedingly complex task that must engage virtually all components and every type of institution within the system. Students who enroll in SME&T courses, individual faculty, academic departments (both within and outside of the natural sciences and engineering), service units (academic support units and physical plants), and the academic, executive, and financial leaders within a given institution of higher educational will be affected.
Reaching the Goal: An Agenda
Contained in this report are six summary vision statements constructed by the members of CUSE. They are based on extensive consultation with representatives of the higher education community and an extensive survey of the research literature. These visions are in full accord with previously published reports and studies on undergraduate SME&T education. Overview and background sections for each vision statement provide further information about the basis of and rationale for each statement. CUSE members deemed it critical to provide specific strategies for implementing each of the six vision statements. These appear after the background sections and provide specific approaches and resources that can be used by chief academic officers, faculty members, and academic units individually and collectively to effect change on their own campuses.
CUSE's mandate was to find ways to improve undergraduate science education for all undergraduates. The committee responded by focusing most of its time and effort in understanding what individual faculty and departments could do to foster change, and this emphasis is reflected in the amount of text associated with Vision 2. However, as the committee pursued its work, it became
apparent that undergraduate education also must be considered as an integral part of the continuum of education in the United States that extends from pre-kindergarten through the graduate and postdoctoral years. The order in which the vision statements and strategies for implementation are presented in this report reflects that continuum.
Innovative, effective undergraduate SME&T education depends, in part, on having students matriculate at postsecondary institutions who have had sufficient pre-college educational experiences to enable them to undertake college-level work. Therefore, Vision 1 addresses pre-college preparation and the changes that are occurring in K-12 science and mathematics education.
Vision 2 then focuses on the roles and responsibilities of postsecondary faculty and SME&T curricula. Postsecondary faculty add value to students' pre-college educational experiences by making explicit to students the connections among the natural science disciplines and by providing opportunities for students to understand the processes and limits of science through inquiry-based and interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning. For science majors, this exposure might often involve participation in undergraduate research.
Next, Vision 3 addresses the importance of designing courses and programs that can be appropriately evaluated for their effectiveness in advancing the learning of SME&T by lower-division undergraduate students.
Vision 4 goes on to address explicitly the needs of two critically important groups of students—undergraduates who enroll in SME&T courses (especially at the introductory level) and who may go on to become teachers of science and mathematics in grades K-12 and practicing teachers of science and mathematics in grades K-12. For too long, the education of future teachers as well as the continuing professional development of current science and mathematics teachers have been viewed by many faculty in SME&T disciplines as primarily the responsibilities of schools of education. Vision 4 calls on faculty in the natural sciences and engineering to become more directly involved in developing integrated approaches to the preparation and continuing professional development of K-12 teachers.
Vision 5 considers the role of institutions in catalyzing change in undergraduate SME&T education through the provision of appropriate rewards and incentives to faculty, creation and support of other institutional resources, such as Teaching and Learning Centers, and assistance to faculty in engaging in appropriate planning for facilities and equipment.
Finally, Vision 6 examines the future of undergraduate SME&T education by considering the role of graduate and postdoctoral education in preparing the next generation of college and university faculty to become skilled teachers. It also addresses the need to support current faculty in learning more about how teaching methods affect student learning.
Many of the specific strategies for implementation in this report expand and build upon the issues articulated in a convocation and subsequent report entitled From Analysis to Action: Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology (National Research Council, 1996a) and in national hearings and the subsequent report entitled Shaping the Future: New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology (National Science Foundation, 1996b). They reflect the ''Year of Dialogue" held across the country by this report's authoring committee with a broad range of postsecondary representatives. Taken together, these implementation strategies could lead to fundamental, systemic improvement in the many facets of undergraduate SME&T education.
The vision statements and their attendant implementation strategies have been provided primarily for those who work directly with undergraduates across the broad spectrum of postsecondary institutions in the United States. Thus, the principles are relevant to community colleges, liberal arts colleges,
comprehensive universities, and research universities. When the roles of graduate and postdoctoral programs are addressed, as in Vision 6, it is as they pertain to undergraduate education.
The committee recognizes that not all of the recommendations and strategies for implementation will be equally useful or applicable to all postsecondary institutions. Different institutional histories, patterns of governance, campus cultures, and efforts to date to improve undergraduate education may make some implementation strategies more useful than others for a given institution. For example, many of the strategies for implementing Vision 6 (changes in graduate and postdoctoral programs) will not apply to community colleges and four-year undergraduate institutions. However, the committee believes that most SME&T departments and institutions should be able to utilize or adopt many of the implementation strategies offered in the report. The committee also recommends that all SME&T programs at two-and four-year colleges and universities work with other professional schools on campus that have direct or indirect interests in SME&T education (e.g., education, medical, business, and law schools), with programs in the humanities and social sciences, and with SME&T departments at other institutions in their regions.
Since large numbers of undergraduates now begin their higher education careers at community colleges and then matriculate at four-year institutions or move directly to the workplace (National Science Foundation, 1997a), two- and four-year institutions, educational associations, and local businesses and industries must work closely together at the local, state, and national levels to develop comprehensive plans for improving undergraduate SME&T education.
Changing the status quo is always difficult. When such change challenges the current organizational structure and mission of postsecondary institutions, strong leadership, understanding, and support for change will have to come from the top officials of those institutions to encourage the faculty who are working to improve SME&T education. Adopting the visions and implementing the strategies for change that are provided in this report will require a great deal of commitment, time, and creative energy by faculty, departments, and academic administrative leaders.