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Closing the Achievement Gap in STEM: A Two-Year Reform Effort at Brown University

Undergraduate attrition from STEM fields remains a problem despite decades of research and education reform efforts to improve the STEM student experience. This study is one piece of a multifaceted STEM reform effort built on the hypothesis that more students will persist in learning environments that include evidence-based practices that expand subject comprehension and improve student satisfaction. At Brown University, four physical science departments worked together over two academic years to implement evidence-based practices in eight different large, introductory STEM courses. This study focuses on the subset of those courses in which both students' participation in voluntary collaborative learning experiences was tracked and students' pre-course preparation was assessed using course-specific cognitive measures. In these courses, the more often students participated in collaborative learning experiences, the more their performance improved compared to their pre-course preparation. Further, participation in collaborative learning experiences was found to disproportionately benefit the performance of female students and students from historically underrepresented groups (HUGs). Based on these outcomes, this study suggests that implementing evidence-based practices such as collaborative learning in introductory STEM courses can help to close the achievement gap for women and HUGs.

Trenshaw, K. F., Targan, D. M., & Valles, J. M. (2016). Closing the achievement gap in STEM: A two-year reform effort at Brown University. Proceedings from ASEE NE ’16: The American Society for Engineering Education Northeast Section 2016 Conference. Kingston, Rhode Island.

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