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Sci Adv. 2016 Mar 18;2(3):e1501422. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1501422. eCollection 2016 Mar.

Assessing faculty professional development in STEM higher education: Sustainability of outcomes.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Murray State University, Murray, KY 42071, USA.
Department of Plant Biology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.
Department of Biology, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, GA 31698, USA.
Delta Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA.
Department of Biology, Illinois College, Jacksonville, IL 62650, USA.


We tested the effectiveness of Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching IV (FIRST), a professional development program for postdoctoral scholars, by conducting a study of program alumni. Faculty professional development programs are critical components of efforts to improve teaching and learning in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines, but reliable evidence of the sustained impacts of these programs is lacking. We used a paired design in which we matched a FIRST alumnus employed in a tenure-track position with a non-FIRST faculty member at the same institution. The members of a pair taught courses that were of similar size and level. To determine whether teaching practices of FIRST participants were more learner-centered than those of non-FIRST faculty, we compared faculty perceptions of their teaching strategies, perceptions of environmental factors that influence teaching, and actual teaching practice. Non-FIRST and FIRST faculty reported similar perceptions of their teaching strategies and teaching environment. FIRST faculty reported using active learning and interactive engagement in lecture sessions more frequently compared with non-FIRST faculty. Ratings from external reviewers also documented that FIRST faculty taught class sessions that were learner-centered, contrasting with the teacher-centered class sessions of most non-FIRST faculty. Despite marked differences in teaching practice, FIRST and non-FIRST participants used assessments that targeted lower-level cognitive skills. Our study demonstrated the effectiveness of the FIRST program and the empirical utility of comparison groups, where groups are well matched and controlled for contextual variables (for example, departments), for evaluating the effectiveness of professional development for subsequent teaching practices.


STEM education; faculty professional development; faculty training; learner-centered; program evaluation; sustainable change

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