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Office of Assessment of Teaching and Learning Teaching STEM

Resources collected and annotated by Carol Anelli, ATL 2012-2013 Faculty Fellow.

Peer Instruction and ConcepTests

Pioneered by Eric Mazur, Harvard University physicist, in his large intro physics class, these two approaches are being widely adapted.


Engaging Large Classes: Strategies and Techniques for College Faculty. (Stanley & Porter, 2002).
Considered a “classic” in the field; opening section discusses all the issues involved in planning, delivering, and assessing learning in a large class plus a summary of the research; second section has chapters written by faculty in 17 different disciplines, providing many examples.

Teaching Large College Classes: A Guidebook for Instructors with Multitudes. (Heppner, 2007).
Heppner’s book addresses various issues, contains practical advice and alternatives to lecturing.

Research Articles

Increased Course Structure Improves Performance in Introductory Biology. (Freeman, Haak & Wenderoth, 2011).
Authors report that a huge-enrollment, highly structured course dramatically, and statistically significantly, lowers failure rates for students compared with a low or moderately structured huge-enrollment course. Moreover, the instructor wrote harder exams, which targeted higher order cognitive skills, in the highly structured course (as demonstrated by independent analyses). The highly structured course implemented e-reading quizzes after each class (~8% of final grade); ungraded, in-class active learning exercises (including clicker questions); and peer-graded, weekly practice e-exams (~8% of final grade) in addition to four 100-hourly exams. The low structured class offered only two mid-terms and a final; the moderately structured class was the same as the low, with the addition of clickers and practice exams. The same instructor taught throughout (6 quarters in all) and controlled for exam points (400 exam points every semester), exam equivalence across quarters (evaluated by two different methods, explained in the paper), and point-inflation due to practice exercises. Student academic abilities were comparable across quarters (determined by statistical analyses), and exam grades for all semesters explained > 89% of variation in the final grade. Article also provides a table based on literature review of failure rates in gateway STEM courses (30% or more is typical).

Increased Structure and Active Learning Reduce the Achievement Gap in Introductory Biology. (Haak, HilleRisLambers, Pitre & Freeman, 2011).
Using pedagogy and statistical analyses described above (Freeman et al. 2011), the authors demonstrate support for what they dub the “Carnegie Hall hypothesis:” intensive practice, provided by active learning exercises, significantly benefits students who are capable but poorly prepared due to educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. The highly structured course pedagogy reduced the achievement gap for at-risk students by 45%.

Active Learning and Student-centered Pedagogy Improve Student Attitudes and Performance in Introductory Biology. (Armbruster, Patel, Johnson & Weiss, 2009).
Article describes redesign of a “problematic” intro biology course of ~200 students without wholesale changes to course content. Authors reordered content, used in-class group problem solving, and revised approach to quizzes.

Pedagogies of Engagement in Science: A Comparison of PBL, POGIL, and PLTL. (Eberlein et al, 2008).
Article describes three pedagogies of engagement (Problem-Based Learning, Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning and Peer-Led Team Learning) and provides research references on their efficacy and when to use them.

From Problem-based Learning to Interrupted Lecture: Using Case-based Teaching in Different Class Formats. (Hodges, 2005).
Article describes use of cases as homework and in-class exercises in a large biochem course, and also in smaller sized courses. She provides questions to address before adopting the pedagogy (e.g., course goals, instructor comfort level, students’ prior experience, how students’ learning will be assessed) and discusses how to adopt the pedagogy to suit the course size and needs.

Using Clickers to Improve Student Engagement and Performance in an Introductory Biochemistry Class. (Addison, Wright & Milner, 2009).
The authors compared student engagement, performance on exams, and self-reported perception of learning (compared with their actual grades) in sections of the same course that employed clickers vs. no clickers. Use of clickers yielded greater student participation and increased their perception of learning. High-achieving students benefited most (in terms of grades) from clickers, a finding others have reported in the literature.

Comparison of Student Performance in Cooperative Learning and Traditional Lecture-based Biochemistry Classes. (Anderson, Mitchell & Osgood, 2005).
Student performance on standardized tests that measured content knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills was significantly higher in the cooperative learning vs traditional lecture style pedagogy. (This contrasts with test data on med student performance in PBL curricula.) Although successful, the cooperative learning classes were too resource intensive and the authors plan to incorporate some aspects of this pedagogy in their traditional course.

Applying Innovative Educational Principles When Classes Grow and Resources are Limited. (Omer et al, 2008).
The authors piloted peer-assisted instruction, peer-led tutorials, and instructor-facilitated small group activities within a large biochem class in a publicly funded, severely resource limited Tanzanian health sciences university. Instructors and students alike responded favorably to the pedagogy, and student preparedness and learning improved.

Team-Teaching a Current Events-based Biology Course for Non-majors. (Bondos & Phillips, 2008).
The course described focuses on “cutting edge” biological advances in the news and its societal implications (example of topics: nanotechnology, proteomics, gene therapy, molecular evolution) and includes principles and methodology underpinning the research. Post-docs and senior grad students instruct, coordinated by a faculty member. Lab tours, demos, and hands-on activities were utilized, and course evaluations attest to student involvement and enjoyment.

Teaching Undergraduate Research. (Henderson, Buising & Wall, 2008).
The authors developed a course to engage students in faculty research and meet several criteria: cost-effective, resource efficient (in terms of faculty time), supportive of student learning, supportive of students with a range of experience and skills, and supportive of scientific research with transferable skills for both the peer mentors and the undergraduate apprentices. Over the course of 10 years, the three authors have applied the approach to 3 research topics and worked with 30 students. They provide learning objectives, assessment  tools utilized, and data on project productivity (number of students involved, posters presented). The success of this “blended” teaching/research model has led many other researchers on the Drake campus to adopt the model.

Additional Resources