E&ER has conducted several studies of course reform in undergraduate STEM education, including changes in pedagogy, assessment, and curricula, and how these changes may support or hinder student retention in STEM majors. Some of our work addresses inquiry for K-12 students and teachers, too.

We have studied active, collaborative, and inquiry-based teaching approaches in a variety of disciplines, including mathematics, computing, and biology, in different institutional contexts.

Some of our collaborative work examines strategies for teaching students and teachers about how science works as an intellectual and human process.

E&ER researchers have studied the transfer process for STEM students who begin at community colleges and transfer to four-year institutions. 

  • Harper, R., & Thiry, H. (2022). Advising from community college to university: What it takes for underrepresented transfer students in STEM to succeed. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 1-20.    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10668926.2022.2050842. [Author accepted manuscript]
  • Holland Zahner, D. G. (2022). Opening the black box of vertical transfer admission: The experiences of community college students in STEM majors. Community College Journal of Research and Practice. DOI: 10.1080/10668926.2022.2135041  www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10668926.2022.2135041 
  • Holland Zahner, D. G. & Harper, R. P. (2022). Validation of belonging among underrepresented undergraduates in STEM majors: Comparison of former transfer and non-transfer students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice. DOI 10.1177/15210251221146119.  

Talking about Leaving Revisited: Persistence, Relocation and Loss in Undergraduate STEM Education explores the extent, nature, and contributory causes of switching both from and among STEM majors and what enables students' persistence to graduation. The book reflects on what has and has not changed since publication of Talking about Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences (1997), drawing on data from a five-year, mixed methods study at original study sites. Results from five component studies are interwoven in order to address key questions about patterns of persistence, relocation and loss in undergraduate sciences. 

  • Seymour, E., & Hunter, A.-B. (Eds.) (2019). Talking about leaving revisited: Persistence, relocation and loss in undergraduate STEM education. Springer Nature: Switzerland AG.

The loss of capable students from STEM majors is a persistent problem in U.S. undergraduate education. E&ER’s seminal study examined root causes of this problem through interviews with two groups of talented undergraduates, matched by test scores, who entered college planning a STEM major: those who declared and completed STEM majors, and those who switched to a non-STEM major. The findings belie the common explanation that switchers “can’t cut it” in STEM fields; rather, switchers and non-switchers alike reported poor teaching, dull introductory courses, and lack of encouragement. However, switchers had less tolerance for these problems and were more likely to change to a major where they did not perceive the same issues.

  • Seymour, E. & Hewitt, N. M. (1997). Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave the sciences. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

We are interested in how people, structures, and ideas are important to the past development, current growth, and future sustainability of an educational community that promotes inquiry-based learning in college mathematics.

This work reveals opportunities and challenges for the IBL Math community in defining itself. In addition to a scholarly paper, we summarized these findings for community members and others, and we collected some responses from community members with their ideas and suggestions of how to act in response.

Go to the IBL community page

The study of the IBL Math community is supported by the National Science Foundation under award 1347669. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these reports are those of the researchers, and do not represent the official views, opinions, or policy of the National Science Foundation.

This national assessment report draws on scholarly reviews and practitioner discussions to capture a snapshot of the current state of research-based reform in undergraduate STEM instruction in six clusters of STEM fields: biological sciences, chemistry and biochemistry, engineering and computer science, geoscience, mathematical sciences, and physics and astronomy. The project combines literature reviews by scholars with assessments of change as observed and carried out by people working on instructional change across a wide range of settings. It identifies key levers for change used to reach this state, and it suggests additional levers for fostering further change in the next decade. The project was led by Sandra Laursen for AAAS, with support from NSF and HHMI.

These chapters examine what is known about the progress and process of change in undergraduate STEM education, based on interviews with 'expert witnesses' with long experience in such change efforts.

  • Seymour, E., & De Welde, K. (2016). Why doesn't knowing change anything? Constraints and resistance, leverage and sustainability. In G. C. Weaver, W. D. Burgess, A. L. Childress, & L. Slakey (eds.), Transforming institutions: Undergraduate STEM education for the 21st century (pp. 462-484). West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.
  • Seymour, E., & Fry, C. L. (2016). The reformers' tale: Determining progress in improving undergraduate STEM education. In G. C. Weaver, W. D. Burgess, A. L. Childress, & L. Slakey (eds.), Transforming institutions: Undergraduate STEM education for the 21st century (pp. 441-461).West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.

This analysis traces historical shifts in the locus of STEM education reform efforts from earlier emphasis on developing the best and brightest to sustain the U.S. technological workforce, to the current notion of “science for all.” Likewise, attention has shifted from an emphasis on teaching to an emphasis on learning. Several past and current theories of change used in STEM change initiatives are examined and their strengths and weaknesses elucidated.

  • Seymour, E. (2002). Tracking the processes of change in U.S. undergraduate education in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Science Education 86, 79-105.