Set aside those old lectures

Labs, discussions and rapid feedback lead to better student performance in STEM classes.

 Project title 
WIDER: EAGER: Recognizing, Assessing and Enhancing Evidence-Based Practices in STEM at Arizona State University

 Award amount 
$298,352

 Grant effective dates 
September 15, 2012August 31, 2016

 Principal investigator(s) 

 Originating sponsor 
National Science Foundation



The challenge

How do we improve effectiveness of ASU’s STEM courses using evidence-based instructional methods and materials? STEM education is important because science and technology play an increasingly influential role in modern life. A growing proportion of jobs require an understanding of STEM subjects. Evidence-based methods of teaching STEM are effective in helping students learn, while alternative methods are often not as effective. Evidence-based methods usually incorporate active student engagement through hands-on lab activities, writing, speaking and problem-solving, with rapid and frequent instructor feedback. These methods are based on research into students' learning processes. Instructors using these methods often target student learning difficulties with great precision. Less effective methods typically put a heavy emphasis on classroom lecturing with only limited opportunities for student activities, and these methods are generally not supported by systematic research on student learning. 



The approach

The project team is engaging in an array of activities, including:

  • Using standardized diagnostic tests to assess learning in science and math courses.
  • Investigating literature in evidence-based methods for STEM; gathering research-based materials; and assembling a small library of materials for faculty use.
  • Carrying out investigations of the relationship between different types of student assessment data; for example, course exams and diagnostic tests.
  • Looking for specific patterns between particular student behaviors and the trajectory of their assessment scores; for example, students who score in a particular range on pre-instruction diagnostic tests tend to perform better than other students on end-of-course assessments.
  • Investigating the history of evidence-based practices in physics instruction.
  • Reviewing course enhancements based on student learning research.
  • Continuing to develop material for SCN 250, one ASU course in this area, as a hands-on, active learning class, meaning that it incorporates student laboratory activities that are explicitly based on research into the learning and teaching of science. 
  • Conducting discussions with STEM faculty regarding evidence-based instruction.
  • Involving graduate and undergraduate students as researchers and teaching assistants in achieving course objectives with evidence-based instruction.



Findings & impact

The project team incorporated evidence-based instructional materials in several physics courses and employed undergraduate teaching assistants in some of those courses to help implement active-learning instruction. This impacted more than 200 students enrolled in the courses from fall 2012 through spring 2016. The courses impacted were physics and physical sciences courses, including PHY 101, PHY 121, PHY 131, PHY 321, and SCN 250. The team purchased laboratory supplies and developed and supported adoption of evidence-based instructional materials. There are significant challenges in the implementation of evidence-based instruction. There is a balance between the positive impacts of implementing new instructional methods and the resources required to do so. Active-learning instructional methods require additional time and effort from instructors and students, at least initially. There are also challenges to inspiring large groups of students to adapt to active-learning instructional methods in place of traditional lecture settings.