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STEM Project Site: Washington University in St. Louis

Washington University in St. Louis Goals & Objectives:

The project team at Washington University in St. Louis, with support from The Teaching Center and the Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning, and Education (CIRCLE) promotes the widespread use of multiple active-learning strategies in lower-level STEM courses by scaffolding faculty professional development and by creating an environment in which teaching is a community effort.

The project builds a support structure and collaborative teaching culture in which introductory STEM faculty can develop, try out, evaluate, reflect on, and refine new active-learning-based teaching methods. Faculty members are supported through many opportunities including summer institutes, learning communities, reading and discussion groups, a faculty fellowship program, a junior faculty mentoring program, and individual instructional consultations.

Additionally, evaluation studies of pedagogical practices and professional development programs are conducted that create feedback loops to faculty members about their active-learning implementations, and to CIRCLE about their programs. These evaluation studies also enable the project team to improve innovations, foster a wider adoption of active-learning strategies, and contribute to current knowledge about the impact of evidence-based methods on student learning and effective teaching.

Washington University in St. Louis Change Model:

Although on paper the WashU AAU project looks similar to that for UPenn, the structures and strategies for reform are quite distinct.

The Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning, and Education (CIRCLE) includes tenure-track faculty (like CREATE for STEM at MSU), in addition to permanent research scientists, and has more official presence with departmental faculty and chairs than CTL at UPenn. As one consequence, WashU from the beginning has been able to focus on curriculum and scaffolding rather than individual course reforms as well as target sustainability and cultural form.

CIRCLE reports to the Provost and is funded by hard money from the Provost and Chancellor. 

CIRCLE and the Teaching Center coordinate the Faculty Fellows program and FLCs. It monitors STEM teaching across campus (not just AAU reforms). As such it is similar in function to CREATE for STEM at MSU (though with a different reporting structure) and the CEE at UC Davis.

CIRCLE enjoys the support of key departmental leaders which allows CIRCLE to operate in more of a partner role with academic units than as a support structure (more typical of traditional professional development centers). Like most AAU project sites, WashU has targeted linchpin introductory STEM courses for its reform efforts (i.e., Chemistry, Biology, Physics).

As a result of the AAU project at WashU, institutional funding has been secured to target two science departments for reform efforts going forward (Biology and Psychology/Brain Science).