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STEM Project Site: Brown University

Brown University Goals & Objectives:

The Brown University AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative project supports the introduction of evidence-based, high-impact practices in key introductory courses in physics, chemistry, applied mathematics, and engineering through the implementation of intensive, small group collaborative problem-solving sessions.

In these sessions, students work with peers to solve conceptually relevant, context-rich problems that expose them to interdisciplinary thinking and learning. The sessions are facilitated by one to three individuals involved in the course, such as primary course instructors, department faculty, postdoctoral researchers, graduate students, and undergraduate students who have previously taken the course.

All facilitators receive training prior to the first problem-solving session to learn effective ways to support student teams. Furthermore, regular meetings of course instructors, their department chairs, and Brown AAU Project Team members to discuss successes and challenges of the ongoing course implementations have created a best-practices pipeline to quickly disseminate successes and solutions between project courses. These meetings also enable cross-disciplinary discourse, nurture departmental communities, and engage faculty and graduate students in the campus-wide implementation of evidence-based practices.

Brown University Change Model:

Unlike most of its AAU peers, Brown is primarily a university-college institution, with a college existing within the context of a research university.

The AAU project has stimulated a more critical view of undergraduate STEM courses and the role of the faculty in student success. As a result of the Initiative, many faculty now view themselves as having a key role in whether or not students decide to enroll and/or remain in STEM majors.

The initial change model at Brown relied on the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, which has a distinguished record in promoting the use of evidence-based teaching, to lead the project with departmental involvement limited to some key individuals in those departments. The unexpected departure of the Director of the Sheridan Center required Brown to change both the structure of the AAU project and in its implicit change model.

The department chairs and key faculty members filled the vacuum left by the Director’s departure and assumed direct responsibility for the AAU project. Brown has created a permanent Faculty Learning Community (FLC) based in departments and colleges to promote best instructional practices in STEM across the campus.

The evidence of increased departmental engagement includes several departments (Applied Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, and the School of Engineering) now leading collaboration with the new Brown Science Center (rather than relying on the Sheridan Center to make the connection). Other evidence of departmental increased engagement includes the chairs (and the Dean of Engineering)—not individual faculty members—submitting proposals to the AAU project leadership (and to the Provost) for AAU-related work.