Promoting active learning in large undergraduate STEM courses: Identifying critical knowledge used by effective instructors
Although active-learning teaching strategies can increase studentsﾒ ability to learn fundamental concepts and develop scientific and critical thinking skills, the results that instructors achieve vary substantially. Instructors in undergraduate STEM courses, while highly trained research scientists, often have had few opportunities to be trained as educators, or to gain experience with active learning. Yet knowledge regarding teaching and learning, not just knowledge of course content, influences how instructors use active-learning strategies, thereby affecting student outcomes. One type of knowledge that is critical to active learning is ﾓlesson analysisﾔ knowledge, which is knowledge used to elicit and respond to student thinking, and to adapt lessons in real-time based on student thinking.
The objective in this research proposal is to elucidate and characterize critical differences in lesson-analysis knowledge of experienced and highly effective (i.e., expert) active-learning instructors versus new (i.e., novice) active-learning instructors in large (100+ students) undergraduate biology courses.
To achieve our overall objective, we are developing and validating an instrument to measure the knowledge used by instructors in analyzing active-learning lessons in large undergraduate courses. This is a video-based instrument modeled after previous instruments used with K-12 instructors. The instrument asks instructors to: (1) view short videos of active-learning lessons in large-enrollment (100+ students) courses, and (2) respond to prompts designed to elicit lesson-analysis knowledge. We will score instructorsﾒ responses with a rubric.
We will then use this instrument to determine how expert and novice active-learning instructors differ in their lesson-analysis knowledge by comparing known experts (i.e., instructors with data to support their effectiveness) with novice active-learning instructors. Using both hypothesis-testing and hypothesis-generating approaches to data analysis, we will elucidate key differences between expert and novice active-learning instructors in lesson analysis.
Outcomes: Successful completion of the proposed research will inform the design of tools to facilitate the training and support of effective active-learning instructors. This work will yield a lesson-analysis instrument that assesses undergraduate biology instructorsﾒ analyses of active-learning lessons. The proposed research will also produce a list of critical differences in lesson-analysis knowledge between expert and novice active-learning instructors. This list will include both quantitative evidence of these differences and rich descriptions generated through qualitative analysis. This establishes the basis for the future design of training and support to facilitate expertise development in active-learning instructors. This will be the first empirical evidence of knowledge that expert active-learning instructors employ in large undergraduate courses.
Broader Impacts: Beyond generating critical knowledge needed to improve undergraduate STEM education, this project will directly impact undergraduate STEM educator development and STEM education. In addition to the proposed research, this project will create and make freely available high-quality videos that display undergraduate instructors implementing active-learning instruction in large courses. These videos will be a resource for instructors to help them better imagine how they might implement active learning, and to provide a variety of examples of its implementation. Videos will be widely disseminated. The project will also generate a summary of the implications of the research findings for teaching professional development that is written for practitioners, rather than education researchers.
One challenge we are facing is that the IUSE is just a 2-year grant. We have budgeted for 2 years of support for a postdoctoral associate to assist with the project. However, most candidates for our advertised position cannot begin until next summer, which is already 1 year into the grant. We therefore anticipate needing a no-cost extension to finish the proposed work. Otherwise the project is off to a solid start.