University of Colorado at Boulder

Student-Centered STEM Education

E&ER has conducted several studies of course reform in undergraduate STEM education, including changes in pedagogy, assessment, and curricula, and 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.

On this page:


Inquiry-Based Learning in College Mathematics

This comprehensive evaluation of a four-campus course development project examines student outcomes and classroom experiences of inquiry-based learning (IBL) in undergraduate mathematics. Read more >>

Transformation of Pedagogy and Curricula in Undergraduate Computing Courses

In collaboration with the ATLAS Assessment and Research Center at UCB, E&ER has conducted evaluation-with-research studies for CAHSI, an alliance of seven Hispanic-Serving Institutions that seek to recruit, retain, and advance Hispanics into computing careers through reform initiatives targeting specific stages in the higher education “pipeline.” Read more >>

Inquiry and the Nature of Science in K-16 Education

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

Laursen, S. L., & Brickley, A. (2011). Focusing the camera lens on the nature of science: Evidence for the effectiveness of documentary film as a Broader Impacts strategy. Journal of Geoscience Education 59, 126-138; doi:10.5408/1.360482 Abstract>>

Laursen, S., & Brickley, A. (2011). “A scientist has many things to do”: E/O strategies that focus on the processes of science. In J. B. Jensen, J. G. Manning, & M. Gibbs (eds.), Earth and Space Science: Making Connections in Education and Public Outreach, ASP Conference Series vol. 443, 116-124. Abstract>>

Upward and Outward: Scientific Inquiry on the Tibetan Plateau (20-minute documentary film, written by Roslyn Dauber and Sandra Laursen). Learn more about the film>>

Laursen, S. L. (2006). Getting unstuck: Strategies for escaping the science standards straitjacket. Astronomy Education Review, 5(1), 162-177. Retrieve fulltext>>

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Attrition and Retention in Undergraduate STEM Fields

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. Westview Press: Boulder CO.

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Processes of Change in STEM Education

We are currently studying 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.

Haberler, Z., & Laursen, S. (2015).  Research Memo: IBL Community History.  The value of the annual Legacy of R. L. Moore—IBL Conference. Ethnography & Evaluation Research, University of Colorado Boulder. Download memo

Some of this work reveals opportunities and challenges for the IBL Math community in defining itself. We have summarized these findings for community members and others, and we have collected some responses from community members with their ideas and suggestions of how to act in response.

Laursen, S., Haberler, Z., & Hayward, C. (2017). The past, present, and future of the IBL community in mathematics.  Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Boulder, Ethnography & Evaluation Research.

go to Community page

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.

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