Background and Focus

For the past 20 years, countless reports have been issued calling for innovation and reform of undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to improve student learning and success. Evidence suggests that current approaches (such as funding individual faculty innovations) are ineffective (Fairweather, 2009). Instead, networking efforts have emerged as critical to creating innovation in higher education. Yet, we know very little about networks beyond that they are linked to facilitating change. The Achieving Scale for STEM Reform project will examine and compare four undergraduate STEM reform networks that have different designs but with a common purpose (undergraduate STEM reform) in order to understand how the networks can be most effectively designed to spread innovations among network members and ultimately on the campuses where they are employed. The three research questions examined are:

  1. How do network members and network leaders perceive undergraduate STEM network design shapes the ability to achieve goals?
  2. What are the perceived benefits of participation in a network related to change for the individual network members and their campus?
  3. How do networks form and how are they sustained in ways that help them achieve their goals?

The four networks under examination in for this study are Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL), the POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry and Learning) Project, Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER), and the BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium.

Project Funding

The Achieving Scale for STEM Reform project is a four-year grant funded from the Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science (TUES) program within the Department of Undergraduate Education of the National Science Foundation (Grant No. NSF DUE-1226242). The TUES program seeks to improve the quality of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for all undergraduate students. The program supports efforts to create, adapt, and disseminate new learning materials and teaching strategies to reflect advances both in STEM disciplines and in what is known about teaching and learning. It also funds projects that develop faculty expertise, implement educational innovations, assess learning and evaluate innovations, prepare K-12 teachers, or conduct research on STEM teaching and learning. It also supports projects that further the work of the program itself, for example, synthesis and dissemination of findings across the program. The program supports projects representing different stages of development, ranging from small, exploratory investigations to large, comprehensive projects.

Research Design and Methodology

This mixed-method research project will utilize interviews, archival research, participant observation, and survey methodology to answer the research questions. Interviews with network leaders, staff, and faculty members; observations of annual meetings; and archival research will inform our understanding of the formation, design, and sustaining of these four networks. Survey methodology will be utilized to understand perceived benefits of network involvement and how network structures shape these outcomes.

Some Aspects of Network Designs and Structures

  • Ties: Relationships among people
  • Density: Number of ties across a network structure
  • Strength of Ties: Extent to which members interact with others closely
  • Homophily: Network members resemble one another
  • Heterophily: Network members are different from one another
  • Central Actors: Individuals connected to many others in the network
  • Opinion Leaders: Individuals who influence others’ choices and attitudes

STEM Reform Networks

  • Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL)

    PKAL is a network of STEM faculty across the country that focuses on creating innovation among faculty so that they change their practices. The national PKAL community has nearly 7,000 members at over 1,000 colleges, universities and organizations. PKAL was one of the earliest undergraduate science reform networks formed in 1989 and one of the few networks to be sustained over time.

  • The POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) Project

    The POGIL Project is a national professional development and curriculum reform effort whose mission is to connect and support educators from all disciplines interested in implementing, improving, and studying student-centered pedagogies and learning environments. It involves approximately 6500 faculty across a range of disciplines. It began in 2003, with support from the National Science Foundation, to disseminate the specially designed activities that are the core of the POGIL instructional philosophy, and to provide professional development to faculty who were interested in implementing this group learning approach and possibly writing their own activities.

  • Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER)

    SENCER is a faculty development and STEM education reform initiative initiated in 2001. SENCER is an approach to STEM education that teaches through complex, capacious, contemporary and contested civic challenges to basic canonical STEM knowledge and methods. The SENCER community includes thousands of faculty members, academic leaders and students from more than 400 two and four-year colleges and universities in 46 states and 9 foreign nations.

  • The BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium

    The BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium has a 25 year history of supporting undergraduate biology education reform. It supports international and interdisciplinary collaborations among faculty with the overarching goal of creating learning experiences that more accurately reflect biological science practices. The BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium includes a large network of faculty who have contributed materials and collaborated in the exploration of innovative biology education.