Collaborative Research: Characterizing Best Practices of Instructors who Have Narrowed Performance Gaps in Undergraduate Student Achievement in Introductory STEM Courses

This project aims to serve the national interest by improving undergraduate student achievement in introductory STEM courses. It will do so by identifying classroom practices that enable a greater number of students to thrive in these courses. Whether or not a person completes a four-year undergraduate degree is a primary driver of income levels. Thus, barriers to earning degrees can present significant obstacles to socioeconomic mobility in the United States. One such barrier is successful completion of introductory STEM courses. Persistence in these courses varies even in STEM disciplines in which students from under-represented groups enter the major at the same rates as their majority peers. Persistence of students is affected by how their instructors teach. For example, incorporating active learning methods in introductory STEM courses can increase student achievement and lower performance gaps. However, not all implementations of active learning are equally effective for supporting these outcomes. A meta-analysis of over 46,000 students in a wide array of STEM courses compared student outcomes in lecture-based versus active learning classrooms. Active learning reduced achievement gaps in exam scores by an average of 40% and the gap in failure rates by 75%. Surprisingly, some active learning interventions widened achievement gaps, raising questions about why the variation exists. Findings from the literature point to two complementary elements of the classroom experience that are necessary to close achievement gaps: (1) an inclusive environment where all students believe they can be successful, which primes them to meaningfully engage; and (2) active learning that follows best practices for how people learn. This project team aims to identify and test the impact of specific elements of classroom culture and course design that effectively narrow achievement gaps.

  • Focus: Undergraduate Students 
  • Funder: National Science Foundation
  • Team: Sarah Eddy (Principal Investigator), Michelle Camacho - Walter
  • Award Number: 2013121
  • Award Amount: $658,379
  • Contact: Sarah Eddy