Evidence-based instructional practices (EBIPs) are practices that, as demonstrated in a preponderance of research findings, support students’ development of long-term conceptual understanding and problem solving skills. The ESTEME@OSU project is designed to catalyze connections between educators in integrative biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and physics toward greater implementation of EBIPs. ESTEME@OSU's goals are to: 1) study student outcomes from the use of EBIPs in classes, 2) change institutional attitudes toward teaching through inspired communities of practice, and 3) create the infrastructure necessary to sustain such cultural change.
So far, the project’s activity has reached nearly every STEM-related unit across campus; exploring the process of implementation of evidence-based instructional practices, the social dynamics of communities of practice, and changes to student outcomes.
While our philosophy is to encourage the implementation of all evidence based practices, the project has chosen to address two practices in particular: interactive engagement with frequent formative feedback, and formal cooperative learning. In their application, these EBIPs are based on classroom architecture that facilliates interactive engagement in lecture combined with cooperative learning in studio workshops or laboratories. The targeted outcomes from utilizing these practices include reinforcing students’ well-connected conceptual knowledge structures, and giving students the opportunity to develop non-linear problem-solving skills utilizing this conceptual understanding.
Interactive engagement with frequent formative feedback
Interactive engagement with frequent formative feedback has two aspects. First, interactive engagement describes a student’s participation in the learning process. To be interactive, a classroom environment should elicit students to actively process and make meaning of the content in collaboration with their peers and their instructor. This may also be thought of as active learning through interactive activities. Second, this EBIP includes frequent formative feedback. This is feedback provided within the interactive environment that allows both students and instructors to gauge the student's current understanding. While some forms of interactive engagement and frequent formative feedback have been in use for years (one example is the use of "clicker" questions in lecture halls), the difference lies in how instructors and students use the feedback-- in this case, to dynamically shape coursework that responds to student's knowledge gaps or proficiencies.
Formal Cooperative Learning
The practice of formal cooperative learning can be described as “[T]he instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other's learning (Johnson et al., 2014).” The practice of formal cooperative learning is based on social interdependence theory, which provides the following guiding principles: that (i) the task is designed so that no student can complete the task alone), (ii) norms are established so that students support each other’s work), (iii) each student’s performance is assessed, (iv) teamwork skills are developed, and (v) students reflect on their group’s processing.
Formal cooperative learning shifts the role of "inquirer" from the instructor to the student. In the classroom, formal cooperative learning can take many forms: the requisite is that students engage one-on-one with each other and their instructors on group-worthy and structured tasks.
Because we believe that change in practice is deeply tied to institutional culture, we use communities of practice (CoPs) as the primary mechanism for implementation and scaling of EBIPs. CoPs are directed towards two areas (i) curricular development and (ii) instructional practice.
In the first area, CoPs allow faculty who have been independently developing and implementing similar innovative instructional practices to make improvements based on lessons learned cross departments. This activity supports further development – allowing innovators to borrow from one another and to collectively address problems they cannot solve independently. In the second area, CoPs permit faculty and student instructors to explicitly address and negotiate the process of developing one’s skill in instruction. This includes deepening her/his understanding and metacognition concerning what she/he is teaching and how she/he is teaching it. In both these areas, the CoPs facilitate the development of relationships amongst members.
The table below shows the reach of evidence based instructional practices upon OSU students during the project's first year.
Johnson, D., Johnson, R., and Smith, K. (1991), Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Faculty Instructional Productivity, ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 4, Washington, DC: The George Washington University.