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Undergraduate STEM Learning Project

Seeking to raise the level of STEM literacy, the UKanTeach STEM Teacher Preparation Program provided a leverage point to address STEM literacy at multiple levels of formal schooling. Since UKanTeach students are regular undergraduate STEM discipline majors it became very important that CSTEM understand the major learning outcomes as they emerged with their majors. Working broadly with all of the STEM disciplines and departments, CSTEM is developing a framework that articulates a broad set of expectations for KU undergraduate students’ understanding of STEM. The overarching goal of our framework for undergraduate STEM education is to ensure that by graduation: 

  • all KU graduates (majors and non-majors) have appreciation for the beauty and wonder of the natural/physical world, 
  • all graduates have an equal appreciation of the beauty and wonder of designed world,
  • all graduates possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in meaningful public discussions, and 
  • are careful consumers of scientific and technological information as it relates to their everyday lives.

It is clear that our undergraduate students will continue to use the processes of science and engineering to continue to learn about the world around them beyond graduation and have the skills to pursue and choose from many options for an impactful career including but not limited to careers in STEM. As future STEM teachers, UKanTeach undergraduates play a significant role in STEM literacy and college readiness for STEM degrees. 

The CSTEM is working with the science and mathematics departments will identify core ideas in each of the major disciplines, particularly those ideas that cut across disciplines, so that faculty will be able to define STEM literacy as student learning outcomes that clearly articulate what all KU graduates know, understand and are able to do relative to STEM disciplines. This framework will organize work to:

  1. develop learning outcomes for all undergraduates that define STEM literacy with measureable learning outcomes,
  2. develop the learning outcomes for undergraduates natural science and mathematics majors that define STEM literacy with measureable learning outcomes,
  3. engage students in continuous self-assessment on their progress toward STEM learning outcomes,
  4. give ongoing feedback on progress toward learning outcomes throughout the student’s undergraduate pathway, and
  5. develop an evaluation and research program that will continue to update and guide the dynamic STEM learning needs of KU undergraduates.

The past several years have been a time of tremendous change for the University of Kansas. Faculty from across the campus worked to identify areas of opportunity, develop business cases and implementation plans leading to core curriculum recommendations and changes to the general education requirements. A strategic plan resulted from this system-wide work, Bold Aspirations, along with adoption of significant changes to the general education requirements for all undergraduates, the KU Core. Our Bold Aspirations and changes to the KU Core enabled us focus upon pathways to and through KU, that continue onward to a successful career. KU Core is an outcomes-based curriculum that will provide students with the practical skills to thrive in today's technological society, as well as the foundational abilities to adapt to and guide tomorrow's world. Significant work began on undergraduate STEM education within this broader university-wide context.

The changes of Bold Aspirations and KU Core are synergistically enhanced by our participation in the Bay View Alliance (BVA); a network of universities carrying out applied research on the leadership of cultural change for increasing the adoption of improved teaching methods at universities, with a focus on STEM fields. The BVA aims to identify and evaluate more effective ways for those of influence at all levels of a university to inspire and enable enhancements of teaching and learning, through adjustments to common educational methods and procedures and seeks to understand the kinds of leadership practices that can best support the widespread adoption of effective teaching methods.

An element that emerged from this collaboration at KU is the establishment of teaching post-docs within the College of Liberal Arts and Science (CLAS). These post-docs develop scholarship in education within the context of their discipline, Discipline Based Education Research (DBER). The work is patterned after the Carl Weiman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia. The natural science and mathematics departments at KU were asked to submit a competitive proposal that outlined a specific plan of work for the postdoc that would developed partnerships with faculty members to work on implementing mechanisms for improving student learning and engagement, particularly in 4-5 large introductory courses in the department or program. CSTEM supports the evaluation of department proposals and supports the post-docs through weekly seminars. In addition, UKanTeach Master Teachers with specific disciplinary expertise work with the post-docs and department faculty on introductory course reform.