Innovation in teaching and learning entails experimenting with new approaches and refining old ones. Whenever we try a new innovation, we want to see what that change does—Does it improve student learning and engagement? Does it support faculty in meeting their course objectives?
Our understanding of the purpose of evaluation is that it is not so much about arriving at a final result, as it is an integral part of a cycle of learning for faculty and students alike.
Student Learning and Retention
Transform STEM teaching at the university level is centered on implementing evidence-based pedagogies, including active-learning methods, which are proven approaches for engaging diverse students in the STEM fields and improving student learning of discipline-specific concepts and process skills.
At Washington University, the evaluation of our teaching innovations aims to measure the impact of active-learning approaches on student performance and on student perceptions of their learning. In partnership with The Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning, and Education (CIRCLE), we are measuring the former by analyzing student performance on course exams and assignments, as well as on standard concept inventories. Moreover, to better understand how active-learning strategies are affecting student engagement, we are conducting student-perception surveys at the beginning and end of the semester. We are administering these surveys to students in upper-level, as well as introductory, courses so that we may analyze the effects of their exposure to active-learning approaches in multiple courses throughout their university experiences.
In addition to these evaluation studies, we are in the process of developing a longitudinal study of students impacted by the STEM Education initiatives that began with the initial AAU grant in 2013. This study will track student grades and retention of students in STEM majors to determine if there are differences among students who have taken active-learning introductory courses compared to students who have taken the more standard lecture-based courses.
Just as evaluation of student learning can help instructors determine what is working or not working in their teaching, evaluation of Teaching Center programs, including the faculty-development programs that are supported by AAU, is helping us to determine the effectiveness of these programs. We are undertaking the evaluation of our programs, and the resulting cultural changes at Washington University, via faculty perception surveys and other assessments.
In addition, we are instituting various modes of classroom observation and feedback, including via Multi-Modal Observation for Scholarly Teaching (MOST), as well as a culture of peer observation and network-mentoring in programs such as the Mentoring in STEM Teaching Program for Junior Faculty (MiST).
A Collaborative Teaching Culture
This creative cycle of refining how we teach is generating exciting discussions and learning communities among our STEM faculty. Together we are arriving at innovative approaches for improving student learning at Washington University.
Initial funding for the STEM education initiatives at Washington University was through a four-year grant from the American Association of Universities (AAU). This work continues through the Transformational Initiative for Education in STEM (TIES), which is supported by the Office of the Provost.
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