Faculty Development Workshop: Transforming the student learning experience in STEM courses through modules that connect fundamental knowledge with social issues​​

Lisa B. Lewis, Albion College, Kathryn Miller, Washington University in St. Louis, Gary Reiness, Lewis & Clark College, Jim Swartz, Grinnell College


This workshop is designed to train faculty in implementation of socially-relevant modules that convey foundational concepts in introductory STEM courses as part of motivating, engaging, promoting the success of, and retaining students. Participants will create a product to implement themselves and be equipped to present the workshop to others.Explore the detailed facilitator handbook »


STEM educators have long been concerned that many students who enter college intending to major in STEM disciplines change their majors after taking introductory courses. Recent research indicates that students, particularly those from groups under-represented in STEM, are more likely to persist when they understand the ways that their scientific knowledge can be applied to solving relevant problems, such as inadequate food supplies, climate change, or disease. Learning early that science is not just a collection of facts and theories but involves dealing with complex, non-linear problem solving, uncertainty, ambiguity, and human values will not only help students become better scientists but will enhance their civic and personal lives. In addition research shows that students learn and retain knowledge better when they can see how it applies to issues of relevance to their lives. Because students often make a decision about their major after taking an introductory course, it is important that these courses emphasize the connections between science and its application to issues that appeal to the students.

There are good curated and reviewed collections of resources that embed fundamental scientific knowledge in social scenarios to help students make these connections, but they are not often used in standard introductory STEM courses. Faculty members can benefit from assistance in identifying and implementing these resources and in recognizing their value in motivating and improving student learning. This approach will be more valuable if implemented across a range of STEM courses that students will encounter, rather than in a single course or STEM department. Therefore, achieving this goal will require institutions to provide support. This workshop is designed to achieve two outcomes to meet these needs--enabling teams of participants to find and adapt or to develop socially relevant modules using humanistic and meta knowledge to teach fundamental scientific knowledge in introductory STEM courses and developing their skills to build institutional buy-in and support for this approach.

Goals of the Program

  1. The workshop will assist teams of faculty in identifying and adapting existing resources/modules that integrate foundational knowledge and social issues in the teaching of introductory (and advanced) STEM courses across programs, departments and institutions.
  2. Participants will create a product that adapts and uses existing resources in a course.
  3. Participants will be equipped and expected to implement the workshop at their home institution or in other contexts in order to disseminate the approach to other STEM faculty and promote large scale change across STEM teaching and learning.


In order to promote widespread implementation of socially relevant modules, workshops will train participants in adaptation and implementation of resources that link core foundational concepts with current issues and problems and provide information on the value of this approach to improve student learning and outcomes. Participants will be provided with examples of such approaches and with resources to support them in finding and adapting existing modules. We anticipate engaging in a dialog across the STEM disciplines and sharing resources such as curated teaching materials for content and for equity/inclusion or curated data illustrating success for integrated learning approaches and inclusive practices.   A key element of the workshop is enabling faculty to advocate for and help facilitate broad implementation across STEM courses.

We expect that the workshop will take different forms depending on context. The format emphasizes the collaboration of faculty in teams.  These may include teams of faculty from different institutions gathering together virtually or in-person, a session at a professional meeting,  or a local multidisciplinary workshop presented in support of an institution's faculty professional development program.  This workshop will facilitate institutional transformation in support of the integration of science and societal issues into introductory (and advanced) STEM courses.

Explore the Facilitator Handbook for implementation of the workshop »

Learning Outcomes

  • Participants can articulate the value of using social issues/case studies, including  improved student learning of core knowledge in introductory STEM courses.
  • Participants will identify resources that are available to them and topics they will use to develop a module to implement in a course.
  • Participants are prepared to undertake implementation of a module or unit in a course that they teach.
  • Participants will demonstrate the ability to assess student learning in the module.
  • Participants are equipped to work with colleagues to implement broader adoption of this approach beyond the course that they themselves teach.

Assessing Program Outcomes

Pre-workshop/Post-workshop assessment:   

This pre-post evaluation is designed to evaluate the impact of the workshop on participants and provide formative feedback to facilitators. Each of the outcomes will be evaluated using Likert scales and/or narrative responses from participants to prompts like those below.

Example Questions:

Likert scale questions with option for narrative comments

  1. How aware are you of resources that you can use to implement social issues to teach fundamental knowledge in courses that you teach?
  2. How well prepared are you to include the module using social issues in a course that you are teaching?
  3. How prepared are you to assess student learning from your module?
  4. How likely are you to implement socially relevant modules in your course(s)?
  5. How prepared are you to discuss the use of this approach with your colleagues?
  6. Do you plan discuss the use of this approach with your colleagues?
  7. How likely are you to use the workshop materials to engage your colleagues?

Example Narrative Questions

  1. What is the value of employing meta and humanistic knowledge to teach fundamental  knowledge in introductory STEM courses?
  2. What steps will you take next week to move your plan forward?
  3. What resources can you draw on to assist you in implementing your plan (e.g., teaching and learning center, colleagues)?

Rubric for evaluation of modules:

A rubric  will be used to assess modules developed by participants for incorporation of learning outcomes/objectives, including incorporation of fundamental knowledge, meta and humanistic approaches, assessments of learning outcomes.  This rubric will be used by the facilitators to help determine whether the learning objectives were achieved by the participants.

Participants will use this rubric to assess their own project and those of others during the workshop and/or asynchronously after the workshop (with reward?) to provide some accountability.

Longer term Assessment

  • How many faculty members/courses have had a module implemented?
  • Of those implementations, what percentage were continued beyond the initial offering?
  • What percentage of other faculty members in the department (or other relevant unit) implemented a social context module?
  • Does the institution express value in the efforts on this project? Are similar approaches being implemented in other departments (or programs)? Does the center for teaching and learning promote/support this approach? Does the institution express value in the efforts on this project? Does the center for teaching and learning promote/support this approach?

*Note: Student-focused outcomes from the workshop products (e.g., ability to deal with ambiguity and complexity) will be included in the facilitator handbook on implementation of the workshop.