Investigating Student-Centered Teaching in Undergraduate Geoscience Instruction: Observations and Interviews
Studies of teaching practices in undergraduate STEM courses have underscored the value of active learning pedagogies in increasing student performance in STEM disciplines (Freeman et al., 2014; Handelsman et al., 2004). Through a national survey of geoscience faculty, we found that participants of Cutting Edge (CE) workshops who make use of the CE website were 1.5 times more likely to spend more than 20% of class time on student activities, questions, and discussion. While this analysis gave us some indication of the practices of CE participants, it rests on faculty self-report data. Some studies have identified a lack of alignment between what faculty report as teaching and what is observed in the classroom (Ebert-May et al., 2011; Henderson & Dancy, 2007). Through a WIDER supplement to the CE project, we aimed to examine what we learned about teaching practices from faculty self-report with classroom observations.
The goals were to characterize the use of active learning instructional practices within identified segments of geoscience faculty, to understand how teaching differs across a continuum of active learning to more traditional lecture classes, to investigate how adoption of such teaching practices correlate with participation in CE activities, and to investigate how faculty perceive their department, institution, and disciplinary community as influencing teaching practices. This project is currently in the publication phase.
We used the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP; Sawada et al., 2002) as a standardized and validated means for detecting the degree to which classroom instruction used student-centered, active learning practices. We sampled classrooms across a wide range of variation on dimensions of interest (e.g., institution type, years of teaching).With a small sample of observations, we conducted in-depth interviews to examine the interaction between participantsﾒ department and institutional activities related to teaching and the CE program.
We have collected 205 observations and conducted 15 in-depth interviews. RTOP scores indicate varying degrees of student-centered teaching with 30% of classes with scores ?30, 45% with scores of 31-49, and 25% with scores ? 50. CE workshop participants who make use of the CE website have an average RTOP score of 48, which is >15 points higher than those with no CE involvement. Interviews illuminated how CE enabled faculty to find ongoing support for improving instruction by teaching and demonstrating skills and methods that were directly transferrable to their teaching environment. They attributed CE to giving them the foundation for connecting with other faculty engaged in improving practice. Intentional recognition by their department and institutional-level support for innovative instruction accelerated such faculty adoption.
Findings are being disseminated to the STEM community (Teasdale et al., in press). We developed a virtual training curriculum for new observers that includes videos and observer coaching and have trained 37 certified observers to date. The project is training new observers and collecting observations for other NSF-sponsored projects (the InTeGrate STEP Center and Supporting and Advancing Geoscience Education in Two-Year Colleges (SAGE2YC)). All protocols and instruments are available through the CE website (https://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/certop/index.html).
We are now well into a transition away from NSF funding to ongoing self-sustainaining program offerings. A committee has been established inside the National Association of Geoscience Teachers of manage the program offerings; a cross professional society committee has been established to manage the program as whole and includes representatives from all groups contributing funds. Program elements have been tested for economic viability and a new, more economic model for simultaneous multiple workshop offerings was tested last summer. The largest challenge is support for the website.
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