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STEM Project Site: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Goals & Objectives:

The objective of the AAU Undergraduate STEM Education Initiative project on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is to support the widespread adoption of high-structure, active-learning (HSAL) practices in large introductory-level lecture-based STEM courses.

The project focuses on increasing the number of redesigned, HSAL-based gateway courses in biology, chemistry, physics-astronomy and mathematics through the implementation of a mentor/apprentice program that facilitates the transfer of HSAL teaching techniques across instructors.

In the mentor/apprentice program, faculty who are experienced in HSAL practices (mentors), and faculty who have less experience in HSAL methods (apprentices) work together in pairs to teach courses that have been redesigned. After completing the co-teaching experience, apprentices go on to teach reformed courses that utilize HSAL practices on their own.

Cohorts of current and past mentors and apprentices also meet on a regular basis to participate in department-based faculty learning communities. Thus, the project works to create support and incentives, and reduce barriers to the adoption of undergraduate STEM teaching methods that have been demonstrated to improve student learning gains and close achievement gaps.

University of North Carolina Change Model:
The mentor-apprentice model, the core of UNC-Chapel Hill’s STEM reform efforts, has been widely accepted at UNC-Chapel Hill since the start of the AAU project because of its demonstrated success in improving student learning outcomes, the intentional inclusion by project staff of senior tenure-track faculty members in the apprenticeship role (with the mentor being an individual well-schooled in the use of evidence-based instruction), and the relatively low barrier to implementation because of its low cost.

Including top researchers in an instructional reform role has been essential to gaining widespread support for reforms by departments and the central administration. Unlike UA, UNC-Chapel Hill uses FLCs for each participating department which in theory is meant to increase the odds of a department adopting STEM reforms.

Like UA, UNC-Chapel Hill has used data on student success in reformed courses to generate political support for institutionalizing the reformed courses. This approach has meant using widely accepted metrics when available such as concept inventories in Physics.

The goal here is to use data on student outcomes for both instructors and for the wider departmental audience. As with UA, collecting data relevant to departmental success is crucial. For UNC-Chapel Hill that has meant reducing the number of failing grades and withdrawal rates from STEM as much as it has meant demonstrating improved student learning outcomes. It has also helped the institution demonstrate that reformed courses are substantially reducing the classroom performance gap between majority and underrepresented minority students.