This is a complete research-based paper paper investigating how NSF-funded faculty development workshops aimed at improving student-centered pedagogy impacted the teaching practices and subsequent student achievement of low-SES engineering students. The faculty development project began in 2016 with the intention of shifting faculty instruction from instructor-centered, information transmission by lecture to more student-centered, conceptual change learning through active learning and engagement pedagogies. Over the course of two years, 80 engineering faculty from seven disciplines including Aerospace, Mechanical, Civil, Construction, Materials, Chemical, and Biomedical participated in 8 bi-weekly workshops (fall semester) and six bi-weekly implementation discussion sessions (spring semester). The workshops promoted pedagogical best practices and covered topics including student motivation, active learning, formative and summative feedback strategies, cooperative and collaborative learning, and educational technology.
Workshop topics were selected to improve faculty instruction for all engineering students; however, this portion of the research is designed to understand the impact of faculty participation on low-SES students specifically. Research indicates a continued gap in STEM achievement measures between low-SES students and their higher SES peers resulting in lower graduation rates from both high school and college programs and perpetuating a cycle of underrepresentation in engineering majors and subsequent STEM career fields. Research demonstrates improved low-SES student achievement in courses incorporating higher levels of active learning instructional strategies. This improvement is due, in part, to increased opportunities for collaboration, peer-to-peer interaction, and interactive formative feedback provided by active learning instructional strategies. When technology is leveraged to facilitate these interactions, low-SES students demonstrate even greater gains than those experienced by their higher-SES peers.
To investigate if similar gains would be observed after faculty participation in this professional development program, student data were collected from all undergraduate engineering courses between 2015 and 2018. We then compared student achievement, measured through final letter grade awarded for each class before and after the professional development program. For greater reliability we compared fall to fall semesters and spring to spring semesters only. A more detailed description is provided in the data analysis and results sections. Low-SES students in this study were identified by ‘Pell grant eligibility’ and student achievement was assessed through grade distribution reports as well as class withdrawal/persistence rates. Data were analyzed to answer two research questions: 1) Did low-SES students experience higher grades and lower failure rates after their instructors completed active learning professional development? 2) When low-SES student data were compared to higher-SES student data, were the rate of change was similar or different between the two demographic groups pre and post-instructor professional development? Results of these research questions are mixed and present additional opportunities for further research.
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