Julia M. Williams,
Interim Dean of Cross-Cutting Programs and Emerging Opportunities & Professor of English, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
On May 7 and 8, I joined a group of STEM educators for the inaugural “Levers for Change” meeting, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The goals for the meeting were clear:
- To capture a snapshot of the current state of research-based reform in undergraduate STEM instruction within six clusters of STEM disciplines: biological sciences, chemistry & biochemistry, engineering & computer science, geosciences, mathematical sciences, physics & astronomy.
- To identify key levers of change that are seen to have been effective in reaching this state, and to identify additional levers—less-tapped or untapped—that may be useful for fostering further change in the next decade.
- To convene a group of leaders with experience in research and practice on STEM instructional change in higher education, to learn from, inspire and connect with each other.
In advance of the meeting, certain individuals were asked to write a white paper in each of the six cluster areas, a paper that attempted to demonstrate the current use of research-based reforms, particularly the use of RBIs, or Research-Based Instruction practices, in STEM classrooms. As the meeting commenced, “Faculty Focus” published a report on the work of one of the Levers attendees . Dr. Marilyne Stains (University of Nebraska) and colleagues had just published the most comprehensive study of the use of RBIs in STEM education, in the journal Science (March 29, 2018). In that study, “the largest-ever observational study of undergraduate STEM education,” researchers monitored “nearly 550 faculty as they taught more than 700 courses at 25 institutions across the United States and Canada.” The results of the study were not promising:
55 percent of STEM classroom interactions consisted mostly of conventional lecturing, a style that prior research has identified as among the least effective at teaching and engaging students. Another 27 percent featured interactive lectures that had students participating in some group activities or answering multiple-choice questions with handheld clickers. Just 18 percent emphasized a student-centered style heavy on group work and discussions. The predominance of lecturing observed in the study persists despite many years of federal and state educational agencies advocating for more student-centered learning, the researchers said.