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Sci Adv. 2017 Feb 15;3(2):e1600193. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1600193. eCollection 2017 Feb.

Improving undergraduate STEM education: The efficacy of discipline-based professional development.

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Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College, Northfield, MN 55057, USA.
Professional Data Analysts Inc., Minneapolis, MN 55414, USA.
Department of Geology, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA 23187, USA.
Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences Department, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.
Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717, USA.
Department of Geosciences, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY 13323, USA.


We sought to determine whether instructional practices used by undergraduate faculty in the geosciences have shifted from traditional teacher-centered lecture toward student-engaged teaching practices and to evaluate whether the national professional development program On the Cutting Edge (hereinafter Cutting Edge) has been a contributing factor in this change. We surveyed geoscience faculty across the United States in 2004, 2009, and 2012 and asked about teaching practices as well as levels of engagement in education research, scientific research, and professional development related to teaching. We tested these self-reported survey results with direct observations of teaching using the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol, and we conducted interviews to understand what aspects of Cutting Edge have supported change. Survey data show that teaching strategies involving active learning have become more common, that these practices are concentrated in faculty who invest in learning about teaching, and that faculty investment in learning about teaching has increased. Regression analysis shows that, after controlling for other key influences, faculty who have participated in Cutting Edge programs and who regularly use resources on the Cutting Edge website are statistically more likely to use active learning teaching strategies. Cutting Edge participants also report that learning about teaching, the availability of teaching resources, and interactions with peers have supported changes in their teaching practice. Our data suggest that even one-time participation in a workshop with peers can lead to improved teaching by supporting a combination of affective and cognitive learning outcomes.


Education; Professional development; STEM Education; Teaching

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