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A Multi-Strategy Approach to Active-Learning: Curriculum Innovations in STEM

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The primary focus is to implement and evaluate our multiple-strategy approach for incorporating active learning into lower-level STEM courses. The multiple-strategies approach allows instructors flexibility in integrating active learning into a framework that meshes with their approach to teaching and with the demands of their discipline and the academic department with which the instructor is affiliated. Further, our multiple-strategies approach embraces the assumption that the objectives of STEM courses and curricula can reasonably vary, with some emphasizing retention of core knowledge, other emphasizing the development of science process skills, and still others oriented toward forging connection to authentic real-world activities, or a combination of these objectives may be emphasized. With the multiple-strategies approach, instructors can better match the active-learning components of their course to their critical learning objectives.

A variety of strategies, including personal-response systems (e.g. “clickers”), small group-work, and supplemental instruction and support through Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) and Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL), are being implemented and evaluated in the majority of our introductory STEM courses. Use of personal-response systems has become particularly widespread, with many courses in STEM and other disciplines adopting this teaching technique.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the multiple-strategies approach, we are examining student learning and achievement and retention of STEM majors. Our efforts have reached more than 5,000 students across the university from both the School of Arts and Sciences (i.e. Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Economics, Environmental Studies, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychological and Brain Sciences departments) and School of Engineering and Applied Science (i.e. Biomedical Engineering; Energy, Environmental, and Chemical Engineering; and Computer Science and Engineering departments). Our evaluation approach includes collecting consenting students’ grades in all their STEM courses, participation in supplemental active learning activities, and administering pre- and post-semester course knowledge inventories and attitudinal surveys. Some preliminary findings include evidence that students participating in PLTL in an introductory chemistry course have significantly higher exam scores than students not participating in PLTL. Additionally, in introductory chemistry courses and an introductory biology course, evidence suggests that higher participation in clicker activities in class predicts higher exam scores, even after students are statistically equated on numerous demographic and achievement variables and lecture attendance is accounted for. Evaluation studies such as these help promote change in both our own and other institutions by providing credibility and an improved understanding of the key aspects that affect successful implementation of active-learning strategies in different disciplines and classroom settings.

For more information see: Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning, and Education