STEM faculty put active learning strategies into practice

(12-16-2015)

Adams State University professors went to school themselves this semester to learn techniques for creating more student engagement in their classes. This faculty development program in college STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teaching and learning was supported by a Title V STEM grant for Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI). The program was conducted by Escala Educational Services, based in Española, New Mex., which specializes in HSIs.

STEM grant Project Director Marcella Garcia explained the grant focuses on three components designed to help more Hispanic and low-income students earn a STEM degree: outreach, academic support, and student engagement.

"Faculty in this program are moving from traditional lecture to an active minds-on/hands-on approach. They are using data to make instructional decisions," Garcia explained. "There is a difference between learning and engagement. It has to do with the level of relationship. The way students feel in class and on campus is a big deal. Because there are so few Hispanic teachers, especially at four-year institutions, there can be disconnects between the students and teachers."

Showing off their certificates of completion of a course in college STEM teaching and learning are, from left: Dr. Jared Romero, Dr. Matt Steffenson, Dr. Jared Beeton, Dr. Rob Benson, Dr. Renee Beeton, Dr. Tony Weathers, Dr. Adam Kleinschmit, Dr. Comfort Cover, Dr. Chris Adams.

The faculty group began their training with a two-day workshop in August at which they considered, among other issues, their responsibilities as faculty at an HSI. Throughout the semester, they videotaped and critiqued their teaching methods and put into practice various techniques for active learning. These faculty now will be able to provide training to their colleagues, as well.

On December 14, nine STEM faculty presented results of their classroom teaching research projects on new active learning strategies and received certificates for completing the program.

The group included:

  • Dr. Chris Adams, asst. professor of chemistry
  • Dr. Jared Beeton, professor of earth sciences
  • Dr. Renee Beeton, assoc. professor of chemistry
  • Dr. Rob Benson, professor of geology
  • Dr. Comfort Cover, asst. professor of management information systems
  • Dr. Adam Kleinschmit, asst. professor of biology
  • Dr. Jared Romero, asst. professor of biology
  • Dr. Matt Steffenson, asst. professor of biology
  • Dr. Tony Weathers, assoc. professor of mathematics

Dr. Steffenson examined the impact of repetition and active learning techniques on students' ability to retain content. He found they retained more after each repetition, and test scores showed improvement over last year.

"These learner centered strategies show promise," said Dr. Benson, who introduced daily quizzes and had students sketch geologic processes in his introduction to geology course. He found non-geology majors showed the most improvement in process and spatial cognition.

Videotapes revealed students became more involved when working on case studies (left) with their peers, compared to a traditional lecture (below).

In videotapes of his class, Dr. Kleinschmit observed students in his cellular biology course appeared more engaged when working in small groups on case studies, as opposed to traditional lecture sessions. Students also enjoyed the case studies and "felt more engaged."

In her general chemistry labs, Dr. Renee Beeton found it beneficial to write learning objectives on the white board, incorporate mini-lectures, and administer a one-questions exit quiz.

Now in its fifth and final year, the $3.6 million Title V grant has funded purchase of STEM equipment and construction of a new observatory and greenhouse on campus, as well as a STEM Center where students can receive tutoring and supplemental instruction, conduct research, and relax with fellow students and faculty. Outreach activities to K-12 students include observatory and planetarium activities, STEM Saturdays, and the Summer STEM Academy.

Adams State University was the first four-year institution in Colorado to be federally designated an HSI, which requires a minimum of 25 percent Hispanic Enrollment. Thirty-five percent of Adams State undergraduates identify as Hispanic. The university has been awarded more than $23.4 million in Title V grants for HSIs since 2000.

By Julie Waechter