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This content will become publicly available on November 21, 2023

Title: Association of malleable factors with adoption of research-based instructional strategies in introductory chemistry, mathematics, and physics
Active learning pedagogies are shown to enhance the outcomes of students, particularly in disciplines known for high attrition rates. Despite the demonstrated benefits of active learning, didactic lecture continues to predominate in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses. Change agents and professional development programs have historically placed emphasis on develop–disseminate efforts for the adoption of research-based instructional strategies (RBIS). With numerous reported barriers and motivators for trying out and adopting active learning, it is unclear to what extent these factors are associated with adoption of RBIS and the effectiveness of change strategies. We present the results of a large-scale, survey-based study of introductory chemistry, mathematics, and physics instructors and their courses in the United States. Herein, we evaluate the association of 17 malleable factors with the tryout and adoption of RBIS. Multilevel logistic regression analyses suggest that several contextual, personal, and teacher thinking factors are associated with different stages of RBIS adoption. These results are also compared with analogous results evaluating the association of these factors with instructors’ time spent lecturing. We offer actionable implications for change agents to provide targeted professional development programming and for institutional leaders to influence the adoption of active learning pedagogies in introductory STEM more » courses. « less
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Award ID(s):
1726126 1726281
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Frontiers in Education
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract Background

    Active learning used in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses has been shown to improve student outcomes. Nevertheless, traditional lecture-orientated approaches endure in these courses. The implementation of teaching practices is a result of many interrelated factors including disciplinary norms, classroom context, and beliefs about learning. Although factors influencing uptake of active learning are known, no study to date has had the statistical power to empirically test the relative association of these factors with active learning when considered collectively. Prior studies have been limited to a single or small number of evaluated factors; in addition, such studies did not capture the nested nature of institutional contexts. We present the results of a multi-institution, large-scale (N = 2382 instructors;N = 1405 departments;N = 749 institutions) survey-based study in the United States to evaluate 17 malleable factors (i.e., influenceable and changeable) that are associated with the amount of time an instructor spends lecturing, a proxy for implementation of active learning strategies, in introductory postsecondary chemistry, mathematics, and physics courses.


    Regression analyses, using multilevel modeling to account for the nested nature of the data, indicate several evaluated contextual factors, personal factors, and teacher thinking factors were significantly associated with percent of class time lecturing when controlling formore »other factors used in this study. Quantitative results corroborate prior research in indicating that large class sizes are associated with increased percent time lecturing. Other contextual factors (e.g., classroom setup for small group work) and personal contexts (e.g., participation in scholarship of teaching and learning activities) are associated with a decrease in percent time lecturing.


    Given the malleable nature of the factors, we offer tangible implications for instructors and administrators to influence the adoption of more active learning strategies in introductory STEM courses.

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  2. This research paper studies the challenges that mathematics faculty and graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) faced when moving active and collaborative calculus courses from in-person to virtual instruction. As part of a larger pedagogical change project (described below), the math department at a public Research-1 university began transitioning pre-calculus and calculus courses to an active and collaborative learning (ACL) format in Fall 2019. The change began with the introduction of collaborative worksheets in recitations which were led by GTAs and supported by undergraduate learning assistants (LAs). Students recitation periods collaboratively solving the worksheet problems on whiteboards. When COVID-19 forced the rapid transition to online teaching, these ACL efforts faced an array of challenges. Faculty and GTA reflections on the changes to teaching and learning provide insight into how instructional staff can be supported in implementing ACL across various modes of instruction. The calculus teaching change efforts discussed in this paper are part of an NSF-supported project that aims to make ACL the default method of instruction in highly enrolled gateway STEM courses across the institution. The theoretical framework for the project builds on existing work on grassroots change in higher education (Kezar and Lester, 2011) to study the effect of communitiesmore »of practice on changing teaching culture. The project uses course-based communities of practice (Wenger, 1999) that include instructors, GTAs, and LAs working together to design and enact teaching change in the targeted courses alongside ongoing professional development for GTAs and LAs. Six faculty and five GTAs involved in the teaching change effort in mathematics were interviewed after the Spring 2020 semester ended. Interview questions focused on faculty and GTA experiences implementing active learning after the rapid transition to online teaching. A grounded coding scheme was used to identify common themes in the challenges faced by instructors and GTAs as they moved online and in the impacts of technology, LA support, and the department community of practice on the move to online teaching. Technology, including both access and capabilities, emerged as a common barrier to student engagement. A particular barrier was students’ reluctance to share video or participate orally in sessions that were being recorded, making group work more difficult than it had been in a physical classroom. In addition, most students lacked access to a tablet for freehand writing, presenting a significant hurdle for sharing mathematical notation when physical whiteboards were no longer an option. These challenges point to the importance of incorporating flexibility in active learning implementation and in the professional development that supports teaching changes toward active learning, since what is conceived for a collaborative physical classroom may be implemented in a much different environment. The full paper will present a detailed analysis of the data to better understand how faculty and GTA experiences in the transition to online delivery can inform planning and professional development as the larger institutional change effort moves forward both in mathematics and in other STEM fields.« less
  3. Abstract

    Several studies have shown that the use of active learning strategies can help improve student success and persistence in STEM-related fields. Despite this, widespread adoption of active learning strategies is not yet a reality as institutional change can be difficult to enact. Accordingly, it is important to understand how departments in institutions of higher education can initiate and sustain meaningful change. We use interview data collected from two institutions to examine how leaders at two universities contributed to the initiation, implementation, and sustainability of active learning in undergraduate calculus and precalculus courses. At each institution, we spoke to 27 stakeholders involved in changes (including administrators, department chairs, course coordinators, instructors, and students). Our results show that the success of these changes rested on the ability of leaders to stimulate significant cultural shifts within the mathematics department. We use communities of transformation theory and the four-frame model of organization change in STEM departments in order to better understand how leaders enabled such cultural shifts. Our study highlights actions leaders may take to support efforts at improving education by normalizing the use of active learning strategies and provides potential reasons for the efficacy of such actions. These results underscore the importancemore »of establishing flexible, distributed leadership models that attend to the cultural and operational norms of a department. Such results may inform leaders at other institutions looking to improve education in their STEM departments.

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  5. Abstract Background

    The University of California system has a novel tenure-track education-focused faculty position called Lecturer with Security of Employment (working titles: Teaching Professor or Professor of Teaching). We focus on the potential difference in implementation of active-learning strategies by faculty type, including tenure-track education-focused faculty, tenure-track research-focused faculty, and non-tenure-track lecturers. In addition, we consider other instructor characteristics (faculty rank, years of teaching, and gender) and classroom characteristics (campus, discipline, and class size). We use a robust clustering algorithm to determine the number of clusters, identify instructors using active learning, and to understand the instructor and classroom characteristics in relation to the adoption of active-learning strategies.


    We observed 125 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) undergraduate courses at three University of California campuses using the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM to examine active-learning strategies implemented in the classroom. Tenure-track education-focused faculty are more likely to teach with active-learning strategies compared to tenure-track research-focused faculty. Instructor and classroom characteristics that are also related to active learning include campus, discipline, and class size. The campus with initiatives and programs to support undergraduate STEM education is more likely to have instructors who adopt active-learning strategies. There is no difference in instructors inmore »the Biological Sciences, Engineering, or Information and Computer Sciences disciplines who teach actively. However, instructors in the Physical Sciences are less likely to teach actively. Smaller class sizes also tend to have instructors who teach more actively.


    The novel tenure-track education-focused faculty position within the University of California system represents a formal structure that results in higher adoption of active-learning strategies in undergraduate STEM education. Campus context and evolving expectations of the position (faculty rank) contribute to the symbols related to learning and teaching that correlate with differential implementation of active learning.

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