Measuring the implementation of student-centered teaching strategies in lower- and upper-division STEM courses

Rocio Benabentos, Zahra Hazari, Jennifer S. Stanford, Geoff Potvin, Pat Marsteller, Katerina V. Thompson, Vincent M. Cassone, Donna Murasko, Laird Kramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Understanding the rate at which STEM faculty move from traditional, lecture-intensive teaching practices to more effective, student-centered practices and the institutional conditions that favor this shift are crucial for supporting faculty change. This study investigated the instructional practices of biology, chemistry, and physics faculty at research-intensive institutions and explored the institutional structures that support student-centered instruction. Faculty members (N = 1,456) from 66 institutions reported on their frequency of use of a variety of instructional practices (at two time points within the last five years) and the support structures present at their institution using the Change in Implementation of Pedagogical Practices (ChIPP) survey. An index was created for measuring use of student-centered instructional strategies at these two time points, providing a measure of change over time. About 30% of all respondents reported increases in the frequency of student-centered teaching strategies over time. For all faculty, participation in institutional faculty communities was predictive of change toward student-centered pedagogies. Faculty teaching lower-division courses were more likely to use at a higher number of student-centered strategies every class, compared to their upper-division colleagues. Factors associated with greater use of student-centered strategies in lower-division courses were institutional financial opportunities for course reform, use of classrooms designed to promote active learning, and engagement in STEM education research. Only one factor, engagement in professional development, was associated with greater use of student-centered strategies in upper-division courses. These findings suggest that pedagogical change is occurring at research-intensive institutions and may be fostered through specific support structures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)342-356
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Geoscience Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute under HHMI Grant #52008210, as well as the 2014 Science Education Program HHMI Grants #52008097, 52008117, 52008096, 52008094, and 52008116. The authors would like to thank the faculty that participated in the study, faculty that assisted in the validation process of the ChIPP survey, and faculty and administrators that served as liaisons in surveyed institutions.

Funding Information:
Survey participants were recruited from biology, chemistry, and physics departments at 72 research universities (Carnegie High and Very High Research classification). A portion of the institutions had been awarded grants from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the private nonprofit medical research organization, through their 2014 Science Education Program for Research Universities (n = 31). Most of the grantees focused on initiatives that impacted biology, chemistry, and/or physics departments, thus motivating our data collection scheme. The Principal Investigators of these grants were contacted to serve as liaisons and provide contact information on each institution’s full-time biology, chemistry, and physics faculty, when possible. Faculty information for the institutions that did not have a liaison (n = 52) were collected from publicly available departmental listings. The data were collected in two rounds following the same procedure in Fall 2015 and Fall 2016, when 4,806 faculty members from 31 HHMI-funded institutions and 4,772 faculty members from 41 comparable institutions were recruited to complete the survey, respectively. The 2016 institutional cohort was randomly selected from all Carnegie-listed institutions with high or very high research capacity (Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, ) to match the 2015 institution cohort and include comparable proportions by historical Carnegie classification, basic 2015 Carnegie classification, undergraduate profile classification, size, and sector (i.e., public versus private). The 2015 and 2016 datasets are comparable by course discipline, class size, teaching assignment load, principal activity, years teaching in the discipline, and years in the discipline, as well as by the most recent and oldest “Adopter Active Index” (see below, no significant comparisons, as tested by t-test or two-proportion z-test), thus supporting the subsequent combination of these datasets. Faculty were contacted by email and provided with links to access their individual password-protected online survey. Six reminder mailings followed periodically over the following seven months for those who had not responded. In the last three months, undergraduate research assistants called biology, chemistry and physics faculty members at low-participation institutions (i.e., less than 15% response rate) to encourage them to complete the survey. Additionally, at this time, Department Chairs and Deans at these institutions were emailed to encourage their faculty to complete the survey. Institutions with participation rates lower than 10% were dropped from the sample reported in this paper (n = 6 institutions) and, thus, data from 66 institutions were utilized in this study. The final average participation rate was 17% overall (n = 1,456 faculty).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 National Association of Geoscience Teachers.


  • Faculty change
  • course reform
  • institutional support structures
  • lower-division STEM
  • student-centered
  • upper-division STEM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (all)


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