Center for STEM Learning
University of Colorado Boulder
Established: 2012 as a Center; 2008 as a signature initiative of the university
Profile submitted by Noah Finkelstein
Vision and Goals
Description of Programming
Centers in general and the CU Center for STEM Learning (CSL) are positioned to serve as key resources and to establish key infrastructure both within and among universities. Within the university the CSL creates a network among the 75+ programs in STEM education, bridges between university administration and on-the-ground efforts and individual faculty, catalyzes and supports STEM education innovations, supports leading research in STEM education and conducts research across educational programs and on institutional change. The CSL also serves as a focal point for STEM education communication, policy, and identity outside the university. The CSL is positioned to create strong ties with other university centers, creating a network among the many disparate programs, importing and exporting relevant educational innovations and research. The CSL contributes to, promotes and helps to shape the state and national dialogs in STEM education. In parallel we build networks among programs for community, the K12 school system, informal education, policy, and public at large.
- Formally coordinate our three related lines of inquiry: (1) educational transformation (particularly course, departmental, and institutional transformation in higher education), (2) education research within and across STEM fields and departments, and (3) K20 teacher recruitment, preparation, and professional development;
- Serve as an additional intellectual and academic home for faculty, researchers, staff, and students from the various schools, departments, institutes, centers, and programs invested in STEM education transformation and research;
- Nucleate, sustain, and advocate for programs that reach audiences not historically represented in STEM: all programs participating in the CU-Boulder Center for STEM Learning are encouraged to address diversity and support students, staff and faculty from under-represented populations;
- Create opportunities, personnel support, and events for communication among existing programs and support cross-programmatic planning, grant writing, and project development;
- Stabilize, sustain, and externalize the CSL model for university-level STEM education, allowing other institutions to adopt, adapt, and build upon our efforts;
- Promote research and faculty, graduate, and postdoc development in STEM education through funding, mentoring, and communication;
- Develop, advocate, and support the incorporation of useful learning and program assessment tools within and across STEM departments;
- Build the regional, state, and national reputation of CU Boulder as a leader in and resource for STEM education.
Specific programmatic activities:
- An annual symposium on STEM education research
- Make Chancellor's Awards for Excellence in STEM Education to graduate students: matching funds will be awarded to support students who engage in graduate-level education research and educational reform programs within the STEM disciplines
- Make Chancellor's Awards for Excellence in STEM Education to faculty: to support faculty who engage in discipline-based educational research.
- Development of a cyber infrastructure and a web-based STEM education portal to link programs and disseminate results.
- A seminar/group meeting series that spans the STEM education transformation and research community at CU-Boulder.
- A visiting speakers program inviting scholars from across the country to share findings and visit CU-Boulder
- Host workshops for the STEM community at CU-Boulder that target key areas of interest.
- Support and develop regional and national STEM education networks and events Support evaluation of STEM education efforts across campus.
- Serve in an advisory role to the CU administration on STEM initiatives, STEM education, and STEM education policy implementation
- Serve in an advisory role to the state of Colorado on STEM education initiatives, legislation, and funding priorities
- Conduct evaluation of the center programmatic activities, impacts and outcomes
Successes and Impacts
The Center incubates, hosts, and advances new models of educational change and effective practices.
Evidence of CSL impact and success:
- The Center serves as resource, connector, and advocate for the nearly 100 programs in STEM education on the CU Boulder campus. The Center supports these programs that advance all students' success, but particularly for women, underrepresented minorities and first-generation college students. Through the weekly DBER seminar series, online resources, an annual symposium, specialized workshops and conferences, advising, and administrative support, the Center advances our collective mission for excellence and inclusion in STEM education and success for students across initiatives.
- The Center directly seeds innovation and advancement of student success through the Chancellors awards for STEM Educational Excellence. There have been 35 faculty awards and 33 graduate awards. These awards have seeded new educational initiatives spanning science and the arts (for instance, LearnChemE, whose online education resources for chemical engineering are downloaded hundreds of thousands of times per year (http://www.learncheme.com), and innovative Boulder Laptop Orchestra (BLOrk), which integrates technology with improvisers in an ensemble setting providing live interaction between the two(http://www.colorado.edu/music/ensembles/blork-boulder-laptop-orchestra).
- As a result of Center support provided to graduate students, there have been nearly a dozen Ph.D.s in discipline-based education research (DBER) in the fields of engineering, physics, astrophysics, and atmospheric sciences, among other disciplines.
- The center hosts programs that are innovative and advance our understanding of student learning and educational spaces, and directly serve to advance students and teachers. For instance, the influential study, Talking about Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences is currently being replicated, and augmented, by researchers here at CU and at the University of Wisconsin (http://talr.wceruw.org/) is housed within the Center, as is the experiential science (XSci) project, which researches, develops and provides experiential learning programs to students and teachers across the state and nationally through the Battelle STEMx network (http://www.xsci.org/). Currently, the Center hosts a variety such programmatic efforts and is focused on growing these efforts
- The Center serves as a home for interdisciplinary discussions that advance student success. Center Fellows are currently engaged in efforts to examine graduate programs in STEM education, advance under-represented student access through coordinated research experiences, and more.
Elements Contributing to Success
The CSL has taken an intentional grass-roots approach to seeding engagement and interest in STEM education on this campus. As described above the CSL has supported a broad variety of programs that support individuals, programs and departments to engage in STEM education.
At the same time the CSL has worked with the administration to provide hooks to provide institutional capacity for those efforts that are spreading and beginning to take root. CSL provides a mechanism to link the senior administration (top down) with the individual programs (bottom up) approaches. At the same time the CSL provides resources for each of these communities, providing examples of successful programs to scale/advocate for at the administrative level, and institutional support for programs at the grassroots level.
The center, as described above, is distributed across campus; it does not have a major building or home. This approach honors existing institutional structures (e.g. departments and disciplines) while providing venues for emerging / expansive approaches (interdisciplinary work).
The project was seeded with extramural funding, most substantially by the NSF i3 program (institutional innovation through integration). Efforts in directed, disciplinary based education programs can be traced back to the 1950's (early work in the physics department), and a long trajectory of building STEM education programs on campus. Currently the CSL is helping address the pressures on the university for improved education (increased learning outcomes, and retention of majors / graduates), cost models, and promise of new technologies.