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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13362.
×

DISCIPLINE-BASED
EDUCATION RESEARCH

Understanding and Improving Learning in
Undergraduate Science and Engineering

Committee on the Status, Contributions, and Future Directions of
Discipline-Based Education Research

Board on Science Education

Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

Susan R. Singer, Natalie R. Nielsen,
and Heidi A. Schweingruber, Editors

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
                          OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
Washington, D.C.
www.nap.edu

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13362.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS     500 Fifth Street, NW     Washington, DC 20001

NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.

This study was supported by Contract/Grant No. 0934453 between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on the Status, Contributions, and Future Directions of Discipline-Based Education Research.

  Discipline-based education research : understanding and improving learning in undergraduate science and engineering / Susan R. Singer, Natalie R.
Nielsen, and Heidi A. Schweingruber, editors. ; Committee on the Status, Contributions, and Future Directions of Discipline-Based Education Research, Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council of the National Academies.

   pages cm

  Includes bibliographical references.

  ISBN 978-0-309-25411-3 (paperback) — ISBN 0-309-25411-6 (paperback) 1. Science—Study and teaching (Secondary)—United States. 2. Engineering—Study and teaching (Secondary)—United States. 3. Science—Study and teaching (Higher)—United States. 4. Engineering—Study and teaching (Higher)—United States. 5. Universities and colleges—Curricula—United States. I. Singer, Susan R., editor. II. Nielsen, Natalie R., editor. III. Schweingruber, Heidi A., editor. IV. Title.

  Q183.3.A1N3585 2012

  507.1’173—dc23

      2012027266

Additional copies of this report are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; http://www.nap.edu.

Copyright 2012 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America

Suggested citation: National Research Council. (2012). Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. S.R. Singer, N.R. Nielsen, and H.A. Schweingruber, Editors. Committee on the Status, Contributions, and Future Directions of Discipline-Based Education Research. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13362.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.

The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.

The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.

The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.

www.national-academies.org

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13362.
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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13362.
×

COMMITTEE ON THE STATUS, CONTRIBUTIONS, AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS OF DISCIPLINE-BASED EDUCATION RESEARCH

SUSAN R. SINGER (Chair), Department of Biology, Carleton College

ROBERT BEICHNER, Office of the Provost and Department of Physics, North Carolina State University

STACEY LOWERY BRETZ, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Miami University

MELANIE COOPER, Department of Chemistry, Clemson University

SEAN DECATUR, Department of Chemistry, Oberlin College

JAMES FAIRWEATHER, Department of Educational Administration, Michigan State University

KENNETH HELLER, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Minnesota

KIM KASTENS, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University

MICHAEL E. MARTINEZ, Department of Education, University of California, Irvine

DAVID MOGK, Department of Earth Sciences, Montana State University

LAURA R. NOVICK, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University

MARCY OSGOOD, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of New Mexico

TIMOTHY F. SLATER, College of Education, University of Wyoming

KARL A. SMITH, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota and School of Engineering Education, Purdue University

WILLIAM B. WOOD, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado

NATALIE R. NIELSEN, Study Director

HEIDI A. SCHWEINGRUBER, Board Deputy Director

MARTIN STORKSDIECK, Board Director

MARGARET L. HILTON, Senior Program Officer

ANTHONY BROWN, Senior Program Assistant

DOROTHY MAJEWSKI, Senior Program Assistant (until January 2011)

REBECCA KRONE, Program Associate

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13362.
×

BOARD ON SCIENCE EDUCATION

HELEN R. QUINN (Chair), Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Stanford University

PHILIP BELL, Learning Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle (until May 2011)

GEORGE BOGGS, American Association of Community Colleges (retired), Washington, DC

WILLIAM B. BONVILLIAN, Washington, DC Office, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

JOSEPH FRANCISCO, Department of Chemistry, Purdue University

ADAM GAMORAN, Department of Sociology and Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison

JERRY P. GOLLUB, Natural Sciences and Physics Departments, Haverford College

MARGARET A. HONEY, New York Hall of Science, New York

JANET HUSTLER, Partnership for Student Success in Science (PS3), Synopsys, Inc., Mountain View, California

SUSAN KIEFFER, Department of Geology, University of Illinois, Urbana

BRETT D. MOULDING, Utah Partnership for Effective Science Teaching and Learning, Ogden (until May 2011)

CARLO PARRAVANO, Merck Institute for Science Education, Rahway, New Jersey

SUSAN R. SINGER, Department of Biology, Carleton College (until May 2011)

WILLIAM B. WOOD, Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder (until May 2011)

Joined May 2011:

RODOLFO DIRZO, Department of Biology, Stanford University

BRIAN REISER, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University

SUZANNE WILSON, Department of Teacher Education, Michigan State University

MARTIN STORKSDIECK, Director

HEIDI A. SCHWEINGRUBER, Deputy Director

MICHAEL A. FEDER, Senior Program Officer (on temporary assignment with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy)

MARGARET L. HILTON, Senior Program Officer

THOMAS E. KELLER, Senior Program Officer

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13362.
×

NATALIE R. NIELSEN, Senior Program Officer

SHERRIE FORREST, Associate Program Officer

REBECCA KRONE, Program Associate

ANTHONY BROWN, Senior Program Assistant

Page viii Cite
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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13362.
×

Acknowledgments

This report is made possible by the important contributions of National Research Council (NRC) leadership and staff, and many other organizations. First, we acknowledge the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation. We particularly thank Myles Boylan, a program director in the Division of Undergraduate Education, who supported and encouraged the development of the report.

This study had its origins in two workshops in 2008 on promising practices in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The committee thanks Carl Wieman, who was the chair of the Board on Science Education (BOSE) at the time, for his vision and leadership to help turn those workshops into this consensus study. We also thank Heidi Schweingruber and Margaret Hilton for serving as the institutional memory and helping to build as many connections as possible between those workshops and this study.

Over the course of this study, members of the committee benefited from discussion and presentations by the many individuals who participated in our four fact-finding meetings. We acknowledge the efforts of the 22 authors who prepared background papers. Janelle Bailey (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), George Bodner (Purdue University), Karen Cummings (Southern Connecticut State University), Robert DeHaan (Emory University), and Jack Lohmann (Georgia Institute of Technology) with Jeffrey Froyd (Texas A&M University) were asked to describe the developmental histories of education research in astronomy, chemistry, physics, biology, and engineering, respectively. We also commissioned literature reviews of research on teaching and learning from Janelle Bailey (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) in astronomy, Clarissa Dirks (The Evergreen State College) in

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13362.
×

biology, Jennifer Docktor and Jose Mestre (both of University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign) in physics, Michael Piburn (Arizona State University), Kaatje van der Hoeven Kraft (Mesa Community College) and Heather Pacheco (Arizona State University) in the geosciences, Marilla Svinicki (University of Texas) in engineering, and Marcy Towns (Purdue University) with Adam Kraft in chemistry. To facilitate our examination across disciplines and into cognitive science, Elliott Sober (University of Wisconsin–Madison) was asked to prepare a paper on epistemological similarities and differences in the sciences. Richard Mayer (University of California, Santa Barbara) prepared a paper that applied the science of learning to undergraduate science education, and Mary Hegarty (University of California, Santa Barbara) prepared a paper on spatial thinking and the use of representations in the sciences. Ann Austin (Michigan State University) prepared a paper on the factors that influence faculty members’ instructional decision making, and Noah Finkelstein (University of Colorado) with Julie Libarkin (Michigan State University) analyzed the role of the National Science Foundation’s Postdoctoral Fellowship in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Program as a pathway for discipline-based education researchers. At our fourth meeting, Kathy Perkins (University of Colorado) discussed the University of Colorado’s Science Education Initiative and its role in advancing discipline-based education research.

We also are deeply grateful to the many individuals at the NRC who assisted the committee. The success of a consensus study such as this report involves the efforts of countless NRC staff members who work behind the scenes. In particular, this report would not have been possible without Heidi Schweingruber and Margaret Hilton, who helped to shape the meeting agendas and the project’s overall trajectory, and participated in committee deliberations. They also made profound contributions to the report by editing individual chapters, providing feedback on the report as a whole, participating in regular meetings with the committee chair, and generally making themselves available to provide advice and guidance. We are grateful to Anthony Brown, Dorothy Majewski, and Rebecca Krone, who arranged logistics for our meetings and facilitated the proceedings of the meetings themselves. We also appreciate Anthony Brown’s assiduous efforts to compile the reference lists in each chapter of the report. And we thank Kirsten Sampson Snyder, who shepherded the report through the NRC review process; Amy Smith, who edited the draft report; and Yvonne Wise for processing the report through final production.

The report also benefitted from the contributions of several affiliates of the NRC. Rochelle Urban and Kristina Mitchell, participants in the NRC’s Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program, provided research support. Tom Foster, a physics education researcher who spent his sabbatical from Southern Illinois

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13362.
×

University–Edwardsville as a consultant to the NRC, provided valuable assistance during the report writing.

This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen by their diverse perspective and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Alice M. Agogino, Mechanical Engineering, University of California, Berkeley; Mark R. Connolly, Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Roger M. Downs, Department of Geography, Pennsylvania State University; Mark Dynarski, Pemberton Research Associates, LLC, East Windsor, NJ; Gary Gladding, Department of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign; Paula Heron, Department of Physics, University of Washington; Thomas Holme, Chemistry Department, Iowa State University; C. Judson King, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (Emeritus), University of California, Berkeley; Michael Klymkowsky, Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado at Boulder; Joseph Krajcik, College of Natural Science and College of Education, University of Michigan; Cathryn A. Manduca, Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College; Robert D. Mathieu, Department of Astronomy, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Lindsey Richland, Department of Comparative Human Development, University of Chicago; Lorrie A. Shepard, School of Education, University of Colorado at Boulder; and Vicente Talanquer, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Arizona.

Although the reviewers listed above have provided constructive comments and suggestions, they are not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. Susan Hanson of Clark University and Adam Gamoran of the University of Wisconsin–Madison oversaw the review of this report. Appointed by the NRC, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.

Susan R. Singer, Chair
Committee on the Status, Contributions, and Future Directions of
Discipline-Based Education Research
Natalie R. Nielsen, NRC Study Director

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2012. Discipline-Based Education Research: Understanding and Improving Learning in Undergraduate Science and Engineering. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13362.
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In Memoriam
Michael Edward Martinez, 1956-2012

A scholar in cognition, intelligence, and science and mathematics learning, Michael Martinez brought an expansive mind, good humor, humility, and a consensus-building approach to our committee and many other National Research Council activities. His diverse career path included teaching high school science; developing computer-based assessments in science, architecture, and engineering at the Educational Testing Service; serving as a Fulbright Scholar in the Fiji Islands; and managing the National Science Foundation’s role in the Interagency Educational Research Initiative. He made great contributions in all of these capacities, and this study was no exception. We benefited enormously from his work with us, and we were deeply saddened by his death shortly before this report was released. We dedicate this book to a wonderful scholar, intellect, and friend.

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The National Science Foundation funded a synthesis study on the status, contributions, and future direction of discipline-based education research (DBER) in physics, biological sciences, geosciences, and chemistry. DBER combines knowledge of teaching and learning with deep knowledge of discipline-specific science content. It describes the discipline-specific difficulties learners face and the specialized intellectual and instructional resources that can facilitate student understanding.

Discipline-Based Education Research is based on a 30-month study built on two workshops held in 2008 to explore evidence on promising practices in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. This book asks questions that are essential to advancing DBER and broadening its impact on undergraduate science teaching and learning. The book provides empirical research on undergraduate teaching and learning in the sciences, explores the extent to which this research currently influences undergraduate instruction, and identifies the intellectual and material resources required to further develop DBER.

Discipline-Based Education Research provides guidance for future DBER research. In addition, the findings and recommendations of this report may invite, if not assist, post-secondary institutions to increase interest and research activity in DBER and improve its quality and usefulness across all natural science disciples, as well as guide instruction and assessment across natural science courses to improve student learning. The book brings greater focus to issues of student attrition in the natural sciences that are related to the quality of instruction. Discipline-Based Education Research will be of interest to educators, policy makers, researchers, scholars, decision makers in universities, government agencies, curriculum developers, research sponsors, and education advocacy groups.

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