B: Working Across Institutions

TITLE: A Multi-Site Implementation of Inquiry-Based Learning in College Mathematics: Classroom Outcomes and Lessons about Reform

PRESENTERS: Sandra Laursen, University of Colorado Boulder

A comprehensive, multi-method study of inquiry-based learning (IBL) in college mathematics sheds light on the outcomes and processes of college STEM education reform. The data come from a study of IBL as implemented in four research university departments that hosted IBL Mathematics Centers sponsored by the Educational Advancement Foundation (EAF). These implementations drew primarily on collegially shared traditions of socratic teaching based on the practices of late mathematician R. L. Moore, rather than on the research literature in the learning sciences. However, their practices as observed were largely consistent with modern, research-based approaches to active and collaborative learning. Each campus independently selected and developed its own set of IBL courses, yielding a range of courses targeted to audiences from first-year to senior level, and to mathematics majors, mixed STEM majors, or pre-service K-12 teachers. Campuses also offered varying forms and levels of professional development and support to instructors new to IBL—most often, informal mentoring and collegial conversation. Thus the study documents a real-world reform experiment that is likely to share features of variability, fidelity, and professional development with other reform efforts as they are taken up by later generations of instructors beyond the original reformers.

The study used an observational design to accommodate realistically variable implementations of inquiry-based pedagogy and high diversity in course content and student audiences. On pre- and post-surveys, students reported on their attitudes, beliefs, and approaches to learning mathematics, and (post-course) self-assessed their learning gains. Classroom observation protocols focused on the use of class time, classroom atmosphere, interactions, and question-asking behaviors. Interviews with students and instructors provided detailed accounts of IBL teaching and learning processes and captured the insights and challenges that instructors encountered. We also examined students’ grades and coursetaking patterns after an IBL (or comparative) course and gave tests in a few courses. In some cases, comparative data could be obtained from non-IBL sections of the same courses. Altogether, the data include some 300 hours of classroom observation, 1100 surveys, 220 tests, 3200 academic transcripts, and 110 interviews with students, faculty, and graduate teaching assistants, gathered from over 100 course sections across two academic years—a scale matched by few empirical studies of student-centered instruction in college mathematics.

Our data document that the reformed courses indeed differed from standard course offerings. During IBL classes, students gave and listened to student presentations, worked in small groups, and discussed ideas that arose from these experiences. On average, over 60% of IBL class time was spent on such student-centered activities, while students in non-IBL courses spent 87% of class time listening to their instructor talk. Among IBL courses, there was substantial variation in the extent and nature of student-centered activity—for example, in the use of whole-class discussion vs. structured  small-group work—as well as in instructor skill at executing these methods. Yet overall the IBL courses offered students quite different experiences from typical lecture-based courses, featuring:

  • learning goals and classroom activities focused on problem-solving
  • a curriculum driven by a carefully constructed sequence of problems or proofs
  • class time used for active and collaborative work, with frequent change of activities and students taking leadership roles
  • instructors who framed and guided student work rather than delivering information.

Student learning also improved in the reformed courses. On surveys and interviews, IBL students reported higher learning gains than their non-IBL peers across multiple areas: cognitive gains, including understanding of mathematical concepts and improved thinking and problem-solving skills; affective gains, including confidence, positive attitude, and persistence; and social gains, including collaboration and comfort in teaching mathematical ideas to others. Students emphasized learning deeply, remembering what they had learned, and gaining confidence to tackle unfamiliar problems. Gains observed for pre-service teachers were highly relevant to their needs for future K-12 teaching.

IBL methods particularly benefited two groups of students who are often under-served by lecture-based math courses. In lecture-based courses, women reported lower learning and confidence than their male peers, but in IBL courses their gains were equal to those of men. Thus IBL methods appeared to level the playing field, enabling both men and women to succeed. Among students with lower prior grades or test scores, IBL courses promoted greater gains than for their higher-achieving peers. This was not the case in traditional courses. Moreover, IBL low-achievers’ gains were sustained into subsequent courses, suggesting that IBL experiences spurred lasting changes in students’ approaches to learning that they continued to apply in later courses.

These student outcomes allow us to view the project as a successful medium-scale experiment in reform. First, the consistency of student outcomes—despite the underlying variety in course content, audience, and methods—demonstrates that teaching and learning can in fact be improved on a substantial scale when student-centered methods are applied. This is a necessary type of scale-up from “proof-of-concept” studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of these instructional approaches in highly controlled but educationally unrealistic conditions. Second, the number of students affected is nontrivial. Of 500 mathematics graduates at the four Centers each year, 20 to 60% had an IBL experience. At two of the Centers, essentially all students preparing for elementary/middle school teaching (~160/yr) had an IBL experience. Third, the project provided substantial professional development, especially to early-career instructors who cited enhanced teaching skills and career readiness. Over 85% planned to use IBL methods again. As they carry IBL approaches to other institutions, these instructors are supported by a growing professional community also built by the EAF. Our data also identify issues of spread and sustainability in scaling up implementation of research-recommended practices. For example, the Centers’ heavy reliance on early-career instructors to staff IBL courses aided national spread but posed a challenge for local sustainability. Participation by senior faculty was generally low; a few faculty champions spent considerable effort to recruit and mentor postdocs and graduate students as IBL teachers. External funding was seen as essential to support the team-teaching approaches commonly used for instructor support. Thus the sustainability of these efforts over time remains a significant question.


TITLE: Changing Practice towards Inquiry-Oriented Learning: What Role(s) can an External Agent Play?

PRESENTERS: Les Kirkup, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

Inquiry-oriented learning (IOL), in which students engage in scientifically oriented questions, gather evidence and formulate explanations based on that evidence, better reflects the processes adopted by scientists in their discipline-based research. Perhaps more importantly, evidence has accumulated over several years of the effectiveness of inquiry-oriented learning to enhance student engagement and learning in science (see for example, Casotti et al. 2008). The question naturally emerges as to why so few science degree programs in Australia have embedded such approaches in their curriculum. Elton (2003) recognised that the dissemination of an innovation is an ‘exercise in change’ requiring understanding of effective change strategies. Dissemination that is unidirectional, so characteristic of conference presentations, peer-reviewed papers or information on websites, is unlikely to be effective. Through an Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) National Teaching Fellowship awarded to the author and which began in August 2011, several strategies are being adopted to facilitate, and in some cases stimulate, change in Australian tertiary institutions towards inquiry-oriented learning in science with a special focus on large first year classes. As such, this presentation primarily addresses the issue of transformation of practice in STEM education.

The strategies adopted include:

  1. identifying, through national science networks those Schools/Departments on the verge, or already in the process of, redeveloping their curriculum to incorporate IOL and to work with those to assist in facilitating change where there is a ‘climate of readiness’ for curriculum change (Southwell at al. 2005);
  2. running hands-on workshops at institutions where participants are immersed in and critically examine IOL as a pedagogy. Participants are given opportunities to adopt a student perspective by carrying out an IOL activity, explore which scaffolding activities would best support student learning during such an activity, and consider what professional development may be required to assist teaching assistants/laboratory tutors to facilitate IOL;
  3. working with national networks in science in order to identify and share findings, through state and national workshops, of experiences and expertise of IOL that have interdisciplinary value;
  4. providing, through competitively funded expressions of interest, a modest amount of money to seed the development and trialling of IOL activities in up to 10 tertiary institutions across Australia. The funds are effectively a ‘one line budget’ allowing recipients the flexibility to use the funds for such purposes as conference registration, securing teaching relief, or support national or international travel to symposia and conferences.

The fellowship program, which is of 12 months duration, is in its early stages. Strategies 1) to 4) are progressing, with several Schools across Australia on the verge of moving towards IOL already integral to the fellowship program; a successful hands-on workshop run in a metropolitan university in Queensland, and; the fellow’s direct involvement with a new national network of university science educators. Eleven universities across all states and one territory in Australia are directly involved in the fellowship program. As first year classes are the focus of many of the initiatives, it is conservatively estimated that up to 3000 students per annum across Australia will be directly impacted. Focusing on the value and potential of strategy 4): Elton (2003) emphasized the probability of change and innovation in higher education is enhanced when there is a confluence of top-down and bottom up pressure (top-down being facilitative and bottom-up being innovative). In addition, the involvement of an external change agent able to offer small amounts of funding, but who also plays an active role in supporting the innovation, for example through mentoring, further enhances the probability of that innovation being  embedded and sustained. It is recognised by teaching and learning (T&L) focused academics in Australian universities that securing small amounts of funding to seed T&L initiatives/innovations has become increasingly challenging as the focus for internal funding support has steadily moved towards relatively large groups engaged in discipline-based research. In addition, seed funding needed for small initiatives is not normally something that national bodies, such as the ALTC would naturally provide, leaving T&L innovators with few support options. By funding small pilot IOL projects, the intentions
are to:

  • encourage the formation of small teams with diverse backgrounds and capabilities to develop trial and embed IOL activities within their curriculum
  • engage institutional leaders, senior academics and educational developers in IOL activity development
  • enhance recognition for the work being done by academics within their own institution through being involved with a national program of activities
  • act as a seed to attract more funding internally and externally
  • offer the opportunity for developers of the IOL activity to ‘start small’ instead of committing large resources to what might be seen (in the early stages at least) as a risky endeavour.
  • become a focal point for a state or national workshop.

Academics developing similar IOL activities at different universities will be encouraged to form a partnership to support each other, which could lead to joint presentations or publications. As each pilot project proceeds, the fellow will take on several roles to sponsor, promote and embed the change including: broker, who will develop and maintain networks; innovator who encourages and facilitates change, and; integrator who acts as a critical observer (Vilkinas and Cartan, 2006).

Elton L (2003). Dissemination of innovations in higher education: A change theory approach. Tertiary Education and Management 9: 3, 199-214.

Casotti, G, Rieser-Danner L and Knabb M T(2008). Successful implementation of inquiry-based physiology laboratories in undergraduate major and non major courses. Adv Physiol Educ 32:286-296.

Southwell, D., Gannaway, D., Orrell, J., Chalmers, D., & Abraham, C. (2005). Strategies for effective dissemination of project outcomes. Sydney, Australia: Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.

Vilkinas, T & Cartan, G (2006a), 'The integrated competing values framework: Its spatial configuration', Journal of Management Development, 25 (6), 505-521.


TITLE:IUPUI Central Indiana STEM Talent Expansion Program (CI-STEP): A Systemic Approach to Increasing Undergraduate Success in STEM

PRESENTERS: Kathleen Marrs, IUPUI; Jeff Watt, IUPUI; Mariah Judd, IUPUI; Charlie Feldhaus, IUPUI; Stephen Hundley, IUPUI; Andy Gavrin, IUPUI

Our project addresses several aspects needed for transforming undergraduate STEM education by propagating, expanding, and creating new research-based STEM educational innovations in  undergraduate STEM education at IUPUI. The Central Indiana STEM Talent Expansion Program at IUPUI, funded by the National Science Foundation, is creating a central Indiana pipeline and a university culture change to increase the number of students from the greater Indianapolis region obtaining STEM degrees. Through a close collaboration between the Purdue School of Science and Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI, University College at IUPUI, Ivy Tech, and Vincennes University, our shared goals are to increase the numbers of students of all demographic groups who:

  1. Pursue STEM academic and career pathways;
  2. Participate in STEM research, industry internships, and honors activities;
  3. Graduate with an undergraduate degree in STEM fields; and
  4. Transition into industry, graduate and professional programs.

Impact at the Campus, Local, State and National Levels: Successful programs in student learning and retention benefit all involved, from the students and the campus, to improvements in the local  economy. Successful programs can than be replicated statewide or nationwide. The primary goal of our project is to employ and assess the impact of several program-wide intervention strategies on  student success, leading to higher numbers of students graduating with STEM degrees. These intervention strategies include:

  • New STEM Summer Bridge Academies
  • Strengthened articulation  agreements, peer-mentoring and academic advising support for Ivy Tech and Vincennes transfer students
  • Expansion of Peer-led Team Learning (PLTL) and Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT) to new departments in Science and to the School of engineering and Technology
  • Development of a new concept in peer mentoring, The CICADA program (Critical Idea Context and Depth Augmentation)
  • Development and expansion of Honor seminars in Science and in the School of Engineering and Technology
  • Development and expansion of Career Development services and internships for undergraduates. IUPUI, with its nationally recognized commitment to improving educational success for all students, has numerous support services already in place to assist with our initiative, making it possible for us to integrate research and education on effective strategies for student learning in STEM disciplines.

Research basis or evidence: Research has established that students who take courses that use active learning outperform students in traditional classes and develop a greater conceptual knowledge of the course content (Astin, 1993; Hake, 1998). Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT) is an innovative, research-based method that has significant effects on student learning and retention via the creation of a continuous feedback loop between the web and the classroom (Novak et al 1998). Peer-led Team Learning (PLTL) has been successfully established at universities nationwide, including IUPUI, and increases student success by recruiting recent successful students from the course to serve as peer leaders to coach small student groups in a workshop setting devoted to problem-solving (Gaffney and Varma-Nelson 2007). Summer bridge programs are known to be an effective way to achieve first-year student success, particularly for first generation and minority students (Meyers 2003). Research on the success of the community college experience as a gateway for first generation and underrepresented minority students has shown the importance of creating a seamless academic pathway for students to successfully transition into a four year college (NCES, 2009), with mathematics being one of the key subjects that determines a students future success in a STEM program (NAS, 2005). All of the programs described are either on-going at IUPUI, or being established and will be fully implemented over the next 5 years, impacting over one dozen departments at IUPUI, approximately 50 faculty members, two local community college systems, and over 10,000 undergraduate STEM students. Goals and/or long term outcomes: While there are many of the factors leading to student persistence and degree completion, our program has these targets for each of the next 5 years:

  • 10% increase in the number of new and transfer students admitted to STEM majors
  • 10% increase in the number of minorities admitted to STEM
  • 10% decrease in the DFW rates for targeted
  • 15 additional students participating in internship and research experiences
  • 50 graduating seniors will have participated in honors seminars
  • 10% increase in the number of students completing a STEM degree at IUPUI.

This increase in degrees, over 5 years, will result in almost 800 additional STEM degrees during the course of the grant, which can then be sustained by the STEM programs established in each department in future years.

Astin, A. W. (1993). What matters in college? Four Critical Years Revisited San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gafney, L. and Varma-Nelson, P. (2007). Evaluating Peer-Led Team Learning: A Study of Long-Term Effects on Former Workshop Leaders, Journal of Chemical Education, 84, 535-539.

Hake, R. R. (1998). Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics, 66:64-74.

Meyers (2003). Academic-Support Strategies For Promoting Student Retention & Achievement During The First-Year Of College National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP). (2005). Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: National Academic Press.

National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES). (2009). Students Who Study Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in Postsecondary Education, July 2009.