Project aims to transform STEM teaching

Project aims to transform STEM teaching

The rapid rate of research advances in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and the increased role of technology in modern societies has underscored the importance of the effective teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Accordingly, a three-year project at UNL aims to transform teaching in roughly 50 STEM introductory courses in 14 departments across the university.

The project – Adopting Research-based Instructional Strategies for Enhancing STEM Education, or ARISE – will use a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support about 100 UNL faculty as they implement new teaching methods in their classes.

“As a land-grant institution serving the state of Nebraska, STEM education has a particular importance,” said Lance C. Pérez, associate vice chancellor of academic affairs and a professor of electrical engineering. “We want to make sure we’re doing it well, and we’re always looking for opportunities to improve our undergraduate and graduate education.”

Ruth Heaton, professor of teaching, learning and teacher education, and a team of disciplinary-based educational research faculty – including Leilani Arthurs, assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences; Brian Couch, assistant professor of biological sciences; Douglas Golick, assistant professor of entymology; Kevin Lee, associate research professor of physics and astronomy; and Marilyne Stains, assistant professor of chemistry – have created several faculty development programs. These programs focus on instructional strategies that promote active learning, enhance student assessment and increase student learning outcomes.

The campus’ Instructional Design Specialists and members of the ITS Emerging Technologies Group are working collaboratively with the project team to implement these programs.

Pérez cited research showing that students drop out of STEM fields at a higher rate than many others, a trend often associated with introductory-level courses heavy on lectures and light on inquiry. The ARISE project, he said, intends to leverage existing knowledge of how best to educate students while also capturing their interest.

“This was an opportunity to capitalize on over two decades worth of research that has demonstrated that certain instructional strategies have measurable positive impacts on student learning,” Pérez said. “In order to implement them with fidelity, faculty need support. A key component of the ARISE project is to providing this support.”

The project team expects that the project will ultimately shape the classroom experiences of several thousand UNL students taking courses in STEM disciplines such as chemistry, electrical engineering, earth and atmospheric sciences, and biology.

A combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods -- ranging from interviews and observations to surveys and departmental documents -- should offer insights into this pivotal question while ultimately helping other institutions transform their own STEM instruction, Pérez said.

The project’s effectiveness is being assessed by the Technical Education Research Centers' nationally known STEM Education Evaluation Center, an independent company based in Cambridge, Mass., dedicated to improving math and science education.