Science Education Initiative

Stephanie Chasteen, University of Colorado at Boulder

Program Description

Science Education Initiative (SEI) was a transformative initiative aimed at changing STEM teaching practices in university settings. The SEI was successfully implemented in two institutions (University of Colorado Boulder and The University of British Columbia) over a period of 10 years. The SEI centered on department-based Discipline-Based Education Specialists (DBESs), disciplinary experts with training in the science of teaching and learning who serve as catalysts of change within departments. The two SEIs have influenced the teaching of hundreds of faculty and the learning of tens of thousands of students per year by promoting the use of evidence-based teaching practices in STEM. These teaching practices are informed by research on teaching and learning, and often include some element of active learning. The lessons learned from the SEI are included in the Science Education Initiative Handbook, linked in this listing.

Program Purpose

It is difficult to scale up educational innovations across faculty and departments.

The key unit of teaching culture change at the university level is the department; thus, the initiative placed resources and staff at the department level. Additionally, faculty are interested in teaching changes but lack the resources of time and expertise to make those change; thus, we placed human resources (postdocs with expertise in the discipline and teaching) in departments to partner with faculty.

Program Goals

Large-scale teaching changes across multiple departments.

Program Activities

Please see the SEI Handbook at

Necessary Resources

Funding to hire postdocs or other experts is valuable. In the absence of such funding, having an active teaching and learning center to provide expertise directly to faculty can play some of the same role.

Notes and Tips

Please see the SEI Handbook at Some lessons learned include (1) provide oversight to departments and postdocs, (2) provide incentives and accountability for faculty engagement, and (3) be flexible in the approach as department structures and timelines vary.

Evidence of Success

We documented extensive changes in teaching practices (120 courses at UBC and 50 courses at CU Boulder with significant levels of transformation), with faculty self-reports and classroom observations demonstrating changed practices. Also documented are changes in teaching and learning culture, student learning, careers for embedded experts, and contributions to scholarly work. Detailed discussion of the outcomes can be found in Wieman, C. (2017). Improving how universities teach science: Lessons from the Science Education Initiative. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Program Costs and ROI

Cost of this initiative in its first year (including start-up costs): $1M
Average yearly costs to maintain this initiative: $1M
Average number of individuals served per year by this initiative:
Average annual rate of success for individuals meeting this initiative's goals:

Future Work

References and Accessory Materials

Science Education Initiative Handbook (free, online guide)

Wieman, C. (2017). Improving how universities teach science: Lessons from the Science Education Initiative. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.