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 will be positioned to contribute to, to promote and to shape the state and national dialogs in STEM education. The audiences for this work lay initially within the university (faculty, administration, staff, and students). In parallel we build 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 will be 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:
- Institutionalize and expand the Colorado Learning Assistant Program.
- 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.
- Develop a cyber infrastructure and a web-based STEM education portal to link programs and disseminate results.
- Conduct evaluation of the center and support evaluation of STEM education efforts across campus.
- Support and institutionalize an annual symposium on STEM education
- Develop workshops, and a seminar/group meeting series that spans the STEM education transformation and research community at CU-Boulder.
- Establish a visiting speakers program and invite 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.
- Serve in an advisory role to the state of Colorado on STEM education initiatives, legislation, and funding priorities.
- Streamline fundraising and communications efforts for the center and its affiliated programs by working with the University of Colorado Foundation, the Office of Government Relations, and the office of University Communications.
Successes and Impacts
Building the campus infrastructure for STEM education. In preparation for this Center, the community has been building campus infrastructure and capacity over the past five years. Through this infrastructure development, more than 75 programs devoted to STEM education have been identified, a needs-analysis conducted, and key stakeholders brought in to shape the structure of the CSL. Seed development efforts have included regular (weekly to bi-weekly) meetings of a project management team to design the center. There have been regular (bi-weekly to monthly) meetings among University Communications, Strategic Relations, Government Relations, and the Center staff. These coordinated efforts have helped establish a brand, identity, and commitment to STEM education at CU—developing branded materials, web-presence, talking points, brochures, staff roles, and language for CU and national efforts.
Despite being at the very beginning stages of this effort, the Center has had vast direct and indirect impact on CU-Boulder STEM education transformation and research. The CSL has supported more than 35 faculty and graduate students with Chancellor's Awards for Excellence in STEM Education (the award itself is a product of infrastructure building). These awards have supported the educational transformation of more than an dozen educational environments, supported 20 graduate students in STEM education research (with 12 PhDs so far, and at least 4 new lines of PhD research in departments on campus), and provided seed funding for more than 15 faculty to engage in STEM education research and transformation. These awardees have subsequently brought in 8 NSF Awards (over $3.5M) on research related to/drawing from their Chancellor Awards.
Developing campus community and identity around STEM education. While harder to measure directly, The CSL efforts have supported community development through two annual symposia (brining hundreds of campus community state and national stakeholders), mini-symposia on targeted areas (such as teacher professional development), a dedicated staff, web-portal / presence, and advising on individual efforts. CSL has supported the development and expansion of the Discipline-based Education research community on campus, which now includes hundreds of faculty, staff and students, across dozens of departments and programs and at least 6 colleges on campus. CSL has already supported interdisciplinary partnerships between physics and social psychology, between engineering and education, and outreach, education, arts & sciences and engineering. CSL will be a partner in the newly formed General Engineering + program. Two significant grants (~$3-$4M) are already running the Center, and 4 more grants have been submitted to the NSF running (at least in part) through the Center.
The Center for STEM Learning also directly supports and scales individual programmatic efforts on campus. A flagship program in CU STEM education is the Colorado Learning Assistant Program:
The Colorado Learning Assistant (LA) Model at the University of Colorado-Boulder uses the transformation of large-enrollment science courses as a mechanism for achieving four goals:
- To recruit and prepare talented science majors for careers in teaching
- To engage science faculty in the recruitment and preparation of future teachers
- To improve the quality of science education for all undergraduates
- To transform departmental cultures to value research-based teaching for ourselves and for our students
More on the LA program at http://laprogram.colorado.edu
The CSL supports a broad array of STEM education programs on campus.
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 (e.g., the symposia, DBER seminar, chancellor awards, etc.)
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. The 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.
Most notably this center builds on the success of key programs in engineering (integrated teaching and learning program), arts&sciences (the science education initiative) and education (the learning assistant program).