Scientific Thinking and Integrative Reasoning Skills (STIRS)

To become engaged and productive citizens prepared to address the critical challenges of the 21st century, college graduates in all fields of study need to be able to:

  • Apply study design and statistical reasoning principles, or other relevant frameworks, to obtain and evaluate evidence.
  • Discuss how evidence can be used to advance knowledge and/or to inform subsequent research.
  • Apply an evidence-based problem solving approach which moves from problem identification, to identification of causal factors, to evidence-based recommendations for solutions, to evaluation of outcomes.
  • Apply an evidence-based decision making approach, identifying elements which frame and drive decision making for problems in the sciences, social sciences, and/or humanities.
  • Analyze the operation of complex systems using evidence and systems thinking.
  • Analyze ethics issues which are inherent in research and use of evidence.

The STIRS project invites scholars across all sectors of higher education to develop educational resources, curricular designs, and assessment strategies that make evidence-based reasoning a more explicit outcome of liberal education.  Additionally, the project encourages campus leaders to imagine scientific thinking as a means through which to intentionally integrate knowledge, skills, and action across the undergraduate experience and through the widest array of disciplines.

To assist colleges and universities in achieving these goals the STIRS Framework has been developed. While there is no single definition of scientific thinking and integrative reasoning, the project offers this framework to interested scholars and practitioners and invites critique, adaptation, and amendment. Over the course of this two-year project, the STIRS Framework will inform a national conversation and will provide coherence to the development of case studies, course modules, sample first-year seminars, integrative learning assignments, and other curricular models that integrate evidence-based thinking across general education and into the major. These resources will be developed and tested at all types of institutions, peer reviewed, and shared nationally through AAC&U’s meetings and publications.

The STIRS initiative has been supported by gifts from individual donors.

The 2014-2015 STIRS Scholars have been selected. Please see the AAC&U press release to learn more about the STIRS Scholars project.

Check out the Fall 2012 issue of Peer Review, which features an introduction to the STIRS project by AAC&U President Carol Geary Schneider as well as a background article written by Richard K. Riegelman, professor and founding dean, School of Public Health and Health Services at The George Washington University and Kevin Hovland, former senior director for global learning and curricular change at AAC&U.

To learn more about evidence-based reasoning and the intellectual foundations of the STIRS project and case studies, review An Introduction to Evidence-based Problem Solving.

Sign up for the STIRS Listserv to receive project updates and to learn more about how to engage with the STIRS Framework.

Questions? For more information, please write to