Consensus Emerging from Research About Effective Undergraduate Science Education

Saturday, February 16, 2013
Room 210 (Hynes Convention Center)
Susan Singer , Carleton College, Northfield, MN
At a time when improving undergraduate science and engineering education for all students is a national imperative, our collective lack of progress in implementing effective teaching practices is a disturbing puzzle. The National Research Council’s Discipline-based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering (DBER) report provides the evidence base for effective teaching practices in undergraduate science and engineering. Over the last two decades, DBER has emerged within the parent science and engineering disciplines, investigating teaching an learning within a given discipline, while informed by and complementary to general research on human learning and cognition. The NRC consensus study on DBER provides a critical synthesis of the research, examines the extent of translation of DBER findings into practice, and charts a future course for robust DBER.  To date, DBER has contributed substantially in the areas of conceptual understanding, conceptual change, developing expertise in problem solving, using representations, and instructional strategies. Effective instruction includes a range of well-implemented, research-based approaches that actively engage students in their own learning. These strategies are more effective in enhancing learning than traditional lecture and with, the support of institutions, departments, and professional societies, faculty should adopt these teaching practices. The research has not yet prompted widespread changes in teaching practice. Both barriers to and strategies for translating DBER into practice are considered. Institutional leaders should include learning and evidence-based teaching strategies in the professional development of early career faculty and then include teaching effectiveness in evaluation processes and reward systems throughout faculty members’ careers. Advancing DBER requires a robust infrastructure that includes adequate and sustained funding for research and training, venues for peer-reviewed publication, recognition and support within professional societies, and professional conferences. The research agenda for future DBER includes studies of similarities and differences among different groups of students, longitudinal studies, basic research in areas including the nature of incorrect conceptions, interdisciplinary studies of cross-cutting concepts and cognitive processes, and additional research on the translational role of DBER.