A multiple-strategy approach means that instructors determine which active-learning methods best fit their course objectives. In the STEM fields, course objectives include discipline-specific knowledge as well as process skills, such as those involved in problem solving and teamwork. Curricular innovations are taking many forms at Washington University.
Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL)
The implementation of Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL), a collaboration between STEM departments, Cornerstone, and the Teaching Center, has been central to our General Chemistry and Calculus courses since 2001. The PLTL program recruits undergraduate students who previously excelled in the course to serve as trained peer leaders of weekly study sessions in which students work in teams of six to eight students to cultivate conceptual understanding of the course material as well as process skills such as those involved in problem solving and teamwork.
To learn more about this approach, please see The Teaching Center’s PLTL site, where we provide research and resources, as well as detailed information on how PLTL is implemented in General Chemistry and Calculus at Washington University. The site gives an up-close look at our peer-leader training, including collections of essays, written annually by each cohort of peer leaders to offer advice for the incoming cohort.
Process-Oriented Guided-Inquiry Learning (POGIL)
Since 2008, POGIL has been integrated into recitation subsections in General Chemistry. POGIL is a learner-centered pedagogy that uses collaborative group work to increase student engagement. With the instructor acting as a facilitator, students work in groups of three to four to collaboratively answer “carefully crafted questions” (or guided inquiry) leading students through three learning phases that cultivate process skills and mastery of the material (Eberlein et al., 2008).
To learn more about the POGIL approach, please see pogil.org.
STEM faculty at Washington University are shifting from a traditional lecture format to more interactive lectures, which incorporate a range of activities, such as problem-solving and group work, that engage students in applying their knowledge and skills in concert with the lecture topics.
One method for increasing student engagement is to incorporate student use of personal-response systems (such as “clickers” or smart phones) to answer questions designed to prompt students to grapple with the course material in the midst of a lecture class. Funding from the Schools of Arts & Sciences and Engineering and the University Libraries has made i>clickers™ available for students via library check-out.
An alternative to clickers is TextWashU, a platform for smart phones and laptops that functions in a similar way to clickers, developed by Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Ron Cytron and Olin Business student, Omar Abdelaziz. This platform allows for polls, quizzes, and texting options.
Since these personal-response systems have become available to our students via library checkout, numerous STEM courses (in biology, chemistry, chemical engineering, computer science, mathematics, psychology and physics) have started using them for spurring individual and group work that cultivates problem-solving skills and concept knowledge through retrieval practice. With the start of AAU support in 2013, 18 courses, with an approximate enrollment of 6,689 students, have included i>clickers™.
Physics 197/198 (known as “Active Physics”) and Introduction to Computer Science are also employing a scalable interactive-engagement curriculum (a modified form of what is popularly known as a “flipped classroom” or studio approach) that provides more time in class for problem-solving and group work. To learn more about this approach, please see our research study on the Active Physics course, developed in collaboration with the Center for Integrative Research on Cognition, Learning and Education (CIRCLE). To learn more about how interactive lectures are working in the Engineering department, see the “Upsidedown Learning” article in Engineering Momentum magazine.
Initial funding for the STEM education initiatives at Washington University was through a four-year grant from the American Association of Universities (AAU). This work continues through the Transformational Initiative for Education in STEM (TIES), which is supported by the Office of the Provost.