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Improving undergraduate STEM education at the University of Pittsburgh through the establishment of a Discipline-Based Science Education Research Center

The Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) has provided funding support to establish a Discipline-Based Science Education Research Center (dB-SERC) at Pitt. The mission of dB-SERC is to promote and support evidence-based teaching practices which bridge the gap between teaching and learning. The center fosters innovative active engagement teaching strategies established by discipline-based education research in the natural sciences for both majors and non-majors.

dB-SERC provides yearly awards for educationally innovative projects designed to transform a natural science course with the goal of improving student learning via evidence-based practices. The principal targets are introductory courses with large DFW rates (Drop, Fail, Withdrawal), although proposals for advanced courses are also considered. Currently, dB-SERC is working with faculty at Pitt who have been granted the awards for transforming both introductory and advanced courses. The implementation and assessment of the teaching innovations will be carried out in the fall semester (2014). During the implementation process, faculty will be supported through periodic meetings in which dB-SERC affiliates and collaborators will provide feedback for tweaking and refinement as appropriate. The meetings will be focused on brainstorming and working together to develop practical solutions to emerging difficulties, along with discussing evidence-based assessment strategies.

dB-SERC also provides support in helping a wider audience of faculty and graduate students learn about effective approaches to teaching. This will be done through a series of workshops, the first of which, titled “Improving Student Learning in Large Classes”, was held on May 5th, 2014. The workshop was well attended and generally well received by the participants. In the future, dB-SERC will teach workshops on effective teaching and assessment strategies to new faculty and incoming graduate students in the natural sciences at Pitt.

In addition, dB-SERC is currently striving to develop a faculty learning community by organizing seminar-style gatherings in which interested faculty members will discuss newly published articles in science education with a focus on practical instructional implications. This initiative is envisioned as a forum for instructors and instructional researchers to stay up-to-speed on existing research, as well as to develop and adapt innovative curricula and pedagogies, and implement and evaluate their effectiveness.

Finally, dB-SERC will create a website which will strive to provide faculty in the natural sciences with discipline-specific resources on evidence-based teaching and learning. It will include assessment strategies, teaching strategies, relevant articles on teaching and learning and online resources (such as free research-based instructional materials).