Transforming the Introductory STEM Courses at Berea College
Research suggests that small-group instruction increases student achievement and persistence in STEM courses ﾖ especially for women, minorities, and at-risk students ﾖ while closing the achievement gap for under-prepared students. Unfortunately, many ﾓbest practicesﾔ are difficult to implement in traditional courses. At Berea, while the adoption of high-impact practices is prevalent in some disciplines, others continue to follow standard lecture/recitation/lab models. Consequently, this project is designed to promote the adoption of studio-based instructional models in all introductory STEM courses. It also provides a unique case study of how innovation spreads within a STEM faculty possessing diverse pedagogical skills and dispositions.
This project uses summer course-redesign workshops and Faculty Learning Communities (FLCﾒs) to support the development of student-centered, evidence-based teaching in introductory STEM classes. The underlying change strategy nurtures a culture of reflective teaching, promoting a shared vision for innovation by supporting faculty adopting studio-based instructional models. The project also provides necessary pedagogical skills for undergraduate teaching assistants (TAﾒs) supporting these new student-centered pedagogies.
Our course-redesign workshop uses syllabus redesign as the method for course transformation. The first-year FLC then nurtures a collegial atmosphere, promoting discussions about studio-based instruction, and evidence-based reflection. The second-year FLC builds on the first by engaging participants and their TAﾒs in in dialogue about the teaching and learning occurring in their classrooms, and uses lesson study to scaffold analysis of teaching.
A design-research methodology structures project evaluation. Data sources include classroom observations, interviews transcripts, conceptual inventories, and disposition surveys. Results from analysis of data flowing from the first cohort are incorporated into the design of the second cohortﾒs experience.
The proportion of STEM faculty using evidence-based, student-centered teaching practices at Berea has increased significantly since this project began, and more faculty are interested in participating. Because participants constitute 47% of the STEM faculty � and this proportion is increasing each year � we believe this project will result in lasting transformation.
While the primary impact of this work has been upon STEM faculty teaching dispositions and practice, hundreds of students enrolled in their courses also have been affected. Because Berea primarily serves poor Appalachian and African American students, it is ideally placed to gauge the effectiveness of studio-based instruction on success of these students in STEM disciplines. Unfortunately, because we are still in an early phase of development and participants have at most one year of experience using studio-based instruction, our students have not yet realized the full benefit of the practice. Consequently, we have no trend data describing impacts on students. As the project continues, however, we have sufficient structures in place to expose any trends that develop.
Because we think this work is of interest to many diverse groups, we have submitted a proposal to the 2016 AERA Annual Conference. Additionally, our work will be the subject of a panel discussion at the POD Network in Higher Education 2015 Annual Conference. We are also developing manuscripts for publication both on our design-research process, and our findings describing how these innovations are spreading among our STEM faculty.
Our most significant challenge has been the interest from faculty teaching upper-level courses, which potentially creates greater diversity in our student sample and injects important constraints on potential course designs. We have allowed them to participate, but are not including those courses in our project evaluation.
None as of this date.