Peer Review

From the Guest Editor

With a new wave of national reports and recommendations regarding STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education recently hitting the Internet, we are again reminded of the imperative to improve student learning and success in these fields. Whether addressing the lagging graduation rates for students from underrepresented groups or advancing scientific and quantitative literacy for more students in general education courses, as educators we are faced with the imperative to improve student learning and success in STEM fields of study.

This issue of Peer Review emerges from the new partnership between Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) and the Association of American Colleges and Universities and provides a critical lens on current trends and emerging practices in STEM education. Recent reports from the National Academies focus particularly on the need for greater alignment between high school and college curriculum and between community college and four-year college STEM introductory programs as well. Many campuses have been making progress in improving STEM learning. This issue of Peer Review highlights this progress. You will see that there is evidence of progress but also with recognition that broad implementation of STEM reforms has been slow in coming.

Followers of the STEM reform movement will recognize in these articles the continuing emphasis on interactive and engaging pedagogies, of which PKAL has been a staunch advocate for over two decades. These practices improve student learning, even in large lecture classes, but also motivate students to persist in STEM courses. In addition, we focus on quantitative reasoning and interdisciplinary learning. Arguably, both of these are critical skills for twenty-first-century student success, and both require intentional cross-departmental vision and coordination. This is often easier said than done. The articles on interdisciplinary learning are from participants in PKAL’s Facilitating Interdisciplinary Learning project and they highlight successful programs and processes for making these kinds of learning environments for both students and faculty work more deliberately and sustainably.

An analysis of National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data takes a closer look at STEM student engagement compared to non-STEM majors. A startling result of this analysis shows that STEM students appear to be less engaged in pedagogies that encourage higher-order, integrative, and reflective learning than their non-STEM counterparts; however, engagement in active and collaborative learning and positive student–faculty interaction on the part of STEM majors are on par with non-STEM majors. These mixed results are particularly discouraging because many faculty members, campus leaders, scientific societies, and national organizations—including Project Kaleidoscope—have been focusing on just these kinds of changes for decades. Clearly many campuses have made changes in their STEM learning environments, but this national analysis suggests we have a long way yet to go to ensure that all students are having the kinds of high-impact experiences we know promote the highest levels of student learning and success.

We can no longer wait for another Sputnik moment. The time is now and we know what to do. Campus leaders should waste no time gathering data on student learning and success in STEM and formulating systemic plans to set a course that ensures all students succeed in gaining the quantitative and scientific understanding required for life and work in this century. We hope this issue provides both inspiration and motivation for accelerated campus action.

In January 2010, Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) formally partnered with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), in order to continue and expand PKAL’s work in advancing “what works” in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. The partnership between PKAL and AAC&U greatly benefits both communities, because science and mathematics are central to liberal education in the twenty-first century. AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative emphasizes the importance of mathematics and the sciences, as well as their application through technology and engineering. Since its founding in 1989, PKAL has been a forceful influence for shaping new educational pathways into science and mathematics that involve students extensively in “doing science as science is done” by leading an ambitious strategic agenda of undergraduate projects and programs related to (STEM) educational reforms. With an extensive network of nearly 7,000 faculty members and administrators at more than 1,000 colleges, universities, and organizations, PKAL has developed far-reaching influence in shaping undergraduate STEM learning environments that attract and retain undergraduate students

 

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