Initial Publication Date: October 24, 2016

Building a DBER Community

Model of how different DBER disciplines could intersect.
The STEM DBER Alliance exists at the intersection of multiple DBER fields. (Image based on initial conceptualization by Mark Connolly.)[reuse info]
Provenance: Model was conceptualized by Mark Connolly.
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  • Erin Dolan, University of Georgia
  • Noah Finkelstein, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Scott Franklin, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Charles Henderson, Western Michigan University
  • Shirley Malcom, AAAS
  • Chris Rasmussen, San Diego State University
  • Kacy Redd, APLU
  • Kristen St. John, James Madison University

Type of Project

Research, Implementation, and Community­ building amongst Centers and researchers conducting Discipline­-Based Education Research.

Problem statement

Discipline­-based Education Research (DBER) is a core mission of many STEM Education Centers. And, the programmatic and research activities of nearly all STEM Centers are informed by the large and growing body of DBER scholarship. To date, the individual disciplines have largely stayed separate, with separate conferences for physics, engineering, biology, chemistry, and mathematics education. We believe that there is tremendous advantage and synergy to be gained through the formation of a single, cohesive DBER community. The ultimate goal of this project is to set the foundation for the development of an interdisciplinary DBER community.

This interdisciplinary community would exist not just to share results, methodologies, and ideas across communities, but also to recognize the intrinsic compatibility of the research areas. An interdisciplinary DBER community would also be well situated to address critical new problems that transcend individual disciplines. For example, the issue of increasing access for underrepresented populations to STEM fields is not unique to any discipline. Although representation statistics vary across disciplines (e.g., women are well represented in biology but not physics), the core issues that exclude marginalized populations ­­­ senses of identity, agency, and belonging within a community ­­­ exist in each. Research to develop theories and practices to address representation is enhanced by simultaneous practice in the different disciplines, and would be aided greatly by being situated within the proposed community.

Alignment with NSEC mission

STEM Education Centers that encompass multiple disciplinary education groups are ideal entities to chart the future of DBER and organize this new community. Advancing a DBER community provides a model to NSEC and other STEM Education Centers for how centers can work together to advance a coherent agenda. By facilitating this cluster, NSEC highlights the strategic and tactical actions that promote community, and lessons learned from this process can be of direct benefit to other sub­communities of centers within NSEC. In addition, results and programs that arise from a DBER community drive programmatic elements that other Centers can adopt and extend. Including this community within NSEC enables a rapid dissemination of foundational research and development to potential implementers. Finally, emerging communities need a home and support, and this proposal gives NSEC an opportunity to be a critical incubator for an important community (much like the American Association of Physics Teachers was for the initial Physics Education Research community).

Results from Year 1 of the RAC

NSEC, in partnership with AAAS and with funding from the Helmsley Trust, held a meeting of discipline-based education researchers (DBER) in November 2016. Our second meeting was hosted by HHMI in May 2017 with support from NSF. Our third meeting was at the Transforming Research in Undergraduate STEM Education (TRUSE) Conference in July 2017.

Meeting at AAAS on November 18-19, 2016

On November 18-19, 2016, more than 25 national leaders in Discipline-Based (STEM) Education Research (DBER) came together to discuss and develop the possibility of a cross-disciplinary STEM DBER community. The group discussed the possible goals and benefits of this new community, as well as activities most likely to bring together researchers from the individual disciplines. There was overwhelming consensus that such a community could be integral in addressing complex, cross-cutting research questions as well as issues that arise in individual disciplines, but can best be understood and addressed with theories that transcend disciplines.

Some important foundational philosophies were discussed and agreed on. For example, it was felt that STEM DBER should be broadly defined so as to include the social sciences. The group generated an initial list of potential research topics they felt would be best addressed by a cross-disciplinary STEM DBER community, including the challenges of expanding diversity and inclusivity, the impact of cross-disciplinary introductory courses, and translational research on the adoption of research into teaching practice. The group generated a list of short- and long-term actions to continue the momentum. See the agenda and participants in Appendix 4.

Meeting at HHMI on May 8-10, 2017

The STEM DBER Alliance held a second meeting at HHMI on May 8-10, 2017. At the meeting, we had 46 thought leaders to engage in discussions about:

1) What are the grand challenges for DBER?

2) What organizational and communication structures will best support DBER-A?

3) How will DBER-A interact synergistically with existing organizations operating in related spaces?

See the agenda and participants in Appendix 4. We are currently writing a workshop report for the HHMI meeting.

The STEM DBER Alliance has made presentations at AERA National Meeting, TRUSE 2017 Conference, and the GRC Undergraduate Biology Education Research in 2017.

Our emerging vision

From our first two meetings, emerged a vision for a cross-disciplinary STEM DBER community that will advance and disseminate knowledge and theory that promote learning and success for all students across STEM fields. This community will address complex, cross-cutting research questions that can best be understood and addressed with theories that transcend disciplines. For example, how can STEM DBER scholars address issues of inclusion and diversity in their research and how can they help translate their research into pedagogical practices and curriculum that support learning for all students across disciplinary boundaries?

At its core, this STEM DBER Alliance will focus on undergraduate learning and teaching at 2- and 4-year colleges and universities, with links to K-12 and graduate education. STEM is broadly defined to include social and behavioral sciences.

Vision documents are here:

  • Henderson, Charles, Mark Connolly, Erin L. Dolan, Noah Finkelstein, Scott Franklin, Shirley Malcom, Chris Rasmussen, Kacy Redd, and Kristen St John. "Towards the STEM DBER Alliance: Why we Need a Discipline-Based STEM Education Research Community." International Journal of Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education (2017): 1-8. Available at
  • Henderson, C., Connolly, M., Dolan, E. L., Finkelstein, N., Franklin, S., Malcom, S., Rasmussen, C., Redd, K. and John, K. St. (2017), Towards the STEM DBER Alliance: Why We Need a Discipline-Based STEM Education Research Community. J. Eng. Educ., 106: 349–355. doi:10.1002/jee.20168
  • Two-page flyer on STEM DBER Alliance:

Where we are now and next steps

We currently have about 300 DBER scholars who have joined the STEM DBER Alliance ( We are exploring having AAAS be an umbrella organization for this community.


We have added STEM DBER Resources to the STEM Education Center Toolkit: . We asked the DBER community to share resources from within their discipline that may be of interest to education researchers outside of their discipline.