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STEM Project Site: Michigan State University

Michigan State University Goals and Objectives:

The main goal of the Michigan State University AAU STEM Education Initiative project is to bring about change in instructional practices and assessments in large gateway courses in order to positively affect student learning.

At the onset of the project, faculty from biology, chemistry and physics were brought together to think about three-dimensional learning, which focuses on the core ideas in each discipline, the crosscutting concepts that span science disciplines, and the scientific practices that facilitate students’ use of their knowledge. These departmental and interdisciplinary conversations engaged faculty in developing new assessments, instructional activities, and tools to examine the extent to which classroom instruction and course assessments align with three-dimensional learning.

A new research instrument was created by the MSU team to characterize assessments in this manner—the Three-Dimensional Learning Assessment Protocol (3D-LAP), and a second protocol to characterize instruction – the Three-Dimensional Learning Observation Protocol (3D-LOP) – is in progress.

Furthermore, a competitive two-year fellowship program has been established that supports an interdisciplinary community of faculty who are committed to continually improving educational practices in STEM gateway courses by developing new and refined activities, materials, and assessments that align with three-dimensional learning.

Michigan State University Change Model:

MSU has embarked on an extensive institution-wide reform effort in STEM education. Some of these reforms were put in place prior to or coincident with the AAU project.

These actions include hiring highly visible tenure-track professors in DBER and science education (including some endowed chairs), supporting with university funds the CREATE for STEM Institute (CREATE) to coordinate some STEM education activities across campus, and using funds from the Provost to implement a program called the Biology Initiative which focused on improving undergraduate biology education through the investment of new resources in the biology departments and Biological Sciences program.

The AAU project at MSU began at the nexus of these activities, which influenced both its model for change, its status at the university, and its strategies. The change model focused first on faculty discussions of core ideas of each discipline, and the ways in which that knowledge is used, rather than on simply changing pedagogical approaches. In this way, the intrinsic motivation of faculty is harnessed to bring about change.

The hypothesis was that faculty who structure student learning around core ideas and scientific practices would also, by necessity change their instructional practices and assessments. MSU’s strategy evolved early on to leverage CREATE in coordinating various STEM reform efforts (CREATE has since expanded to formally include the College of Engineering and Lyman Briggs College in addition to the Colleges of Natural Science and Education) and in supporting various reform efforts both to improve the odds for success in the AAU project and to achieve large-scale impact at the university.

Because the change strategy depends on the restructuring of courses around core ideas and science practices the evidence of change should also incorporate the ways in which both the instruction and assessment of student learning have changed. The AAU project team developed a protocol (the 3-dimensional learning assessment protocol (3D-LAP), that allowed them to gather evidence of the extent of change in course assessments. The 3D-LAP also provides guidance for faculty as they design new assessment items for transformed courses. Another protocol (the three-dimensional learning observation protocol 3D-LOP) is under development and will be used to gather evidence for the extent of transformation in the classroom.

As for specific strategies, the MSU central administration invested funds in STEM reform (Biology Initiative) prior to the AAU effort. Because the AAU project was seen as a cornerstone of an overall reform strategy at the university the central administration added support to the AAU team and related work prior to evidence of their effectiveness to assist both the AAU project leadership and CREATE in coordinating reforms across projects and administrative units.

Over time the Dean of the College of Natural Science and other relevant campus administrative units supported the coordination of various large-scale STEM reforms under the CREATE umbrella. The success of the AAU project has led directly to a follow on grant from NSF to extend the approach to more courses including upper level courses and to other institutions.