Regional Collaborative for Change in Undergraduate STEM Education (RECCUSE)

Core Leadership

Cynthia Ghent, Towson University; Gili Marbach-Ad, University of Maryland; Katerina Thompson, University of Maryland; Jacqueline Bortiatynski, Pennsylvania State University; Lindsay Wheeler, University of Virginia

Type of Project

Research and Implementation

Original Proposal

University STEM curricula often emphasize content over cross-disciplinary skills such as collaboration, communication, and problem solving, despite a consensus among employers (Hart Research Associates, 2015), policymakers (such as AAAS, AAS), and education researchers (Hora, Benbow and Oleson, 2016) that these skills are critical. In addition to being important in the workplace, these skills are required for students to meaningfully engage in evidence-based active-learning approaches such as group work and problem solving. Higher education is characterized by a pervasive reliance on traditional lecturing methods that emphasize knowledge acquisition, resulting in a gap between the research-based recommendations and faculty teaching practice. It is unclear the degree to which faculty and students value these critical cross-disciplinary skills, which ultimately influence faculty teaching decisions (Henderson et al. 2011) and student learning approaches (Trigwell, Prosser, & Waterhouse, 1999).

Marbach-Ad, Thompson, and colleagues at the University of Maryland have developed and validated the Survey of Teaching Beliefs and Practices for Undergraduates (STEP-U), which asks graduating students to rate the degree to which they valued specific cross-disciplinary skills (e.g., scientific writing and collaboration) and indicate how often they had experienced specific teaching practices (e.g., writing assignments and working in groups) that reinforce those skills (Marbach-Ad et al. 2016). They also engaged 147 STEM faculty members in discussion and analysis of the summarized data from their own students during regular departmental faculty meetings. Faculty were asked how much they valued each skill, discussed possible reasons for disciplinary differences and gaps between student values and their own, and offered ideas for teaching strategies that could address the gaps, which resulted in a department-wide opportunity for teaching professional development.

The purpose of this RAC is to examine the generalizability of STEP-U results and investigate whether similar approaches to engaging faculty members would be effective at other institutions. We propose collecting STEP-U survey data from STEM students and faculty members on each partner campus, as well as conducting interviews with a subset of graduating seniors. These data will be used to design professional development workshops for faculty members, with an eye to effecting transformative changes in STEM teaching practice. Each institution would be an individual case study, with each Center cultivating departmental buy-in, adapting the surveys to their local context, collecting data, and designing local programming. All of these efforts would combine at the regional level, where the project partners would collectively design effective professional development modules for national dissemination.

Proposed Deliverables

  1. We will create a regional collaborative of STEM Education Centers and Teaching and Learning Centers to discuss issues of common concern, conduct collaborative research, and develop new programs.
  2. We will develop a model for data-driven faculty professional development that can be used to support changes in instructional practices towards greater use of evidence-based active learning approaches.


  • Hart Research Associates. (2015). Falling short? College learning and career success.
  • Henderson, C., Beach, A., & Finkelstein, N. (2011). Facilitating change in undergraduate STEM instructional practices: An analytic review of the literature. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 48(8), 952-984.
  • Hora, M. T. (2016). Beyond the Skills Gap: Preparing College Students for Life and Work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
  • Marbach-Ad, G., & Rietschel, C. A. (2016). Case study documenting the process by which biology instructors transition from teacher-centered to learner-centered teaching. CBE- Life Science Education. 15(4), ar62.
  • Trigwell, K., Prosser, M., & Waterhouse, F. (1999). Relations between teachers' approaches to teaching and students' approaches to learning. Higher education, 37(1), 57-70.