Reaching Students: What Research Says About Effective Instruction in Undergraduate Science Education

This meta-analysis review from the field of discipline-based education research contains insights on how students learn science and engineering and how to design instructional strategies that build on these insights.

Linda Kober
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Research Council of the National Academies
Publication Year
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Number of Pages

The undergraduate years are a turning point in producing scientifically literate citizens and future scientists and engineers. Evidence from research about how students learn science and engineering shows that teaching strategies that motivate and engage students will improve their learning. So how do students best learn science and engineering? Are there ways of thinking that hinder or help their learning process? Which teaching strategies are most effective in developing their knowledge and skills? And how can practitioners apply these strategies to their own courses or suggest new approaches within their departments or institutions? Reaching Students strives to answer these questions.

Reaching Students presents the best thinking to date on teaching and learning undergraduate science and engineering. Focusing on the disciplines of astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, geosciences, and physics, this book is an introduction to strategies to try in your classroom or institution. Concrete examples and case studies illustrate how experienced instructors and leaders have applied evidence-based approaches to address student needs, encouraged the use of effective techniques within a department or an institution, and addressed the challenges that arose along the way.

The research-based strategies in Reaching Students can be adopted or adapted by instructors and leaders in all types of public or private higher education institutions. They are designed to work in introductory and upper-level courses, small and large classes, lectures and labs, and courses for majors and non-majors. And these approaches are feasible for practitioners of all experience levels who are open to incorporating ideas from research and reflecting on their teaching practices. This book is an essential resource for enriching instruction and better educating students.

What the experts say

Reaching Students: What Research Says About Effective Instruction in Undergraduate Science and Engineering contains a valuable message for those interested in refocusing instruction by experimenting with new ways to reach students. These approaches and strategies use research-based components for effective teaching and learning. Although written for a higher education audience, the examples and methodologies are applicable to adult education classes.

With the interest in moving more adult learners on to postsecondary education and adult learner interest in STEM careers, it is important to help adult learners develop deeper conceptual and practical background in science.

One major drawback is that the resource assumes that the instructor has the science knowledge needed to help students address misconceptions and areas of confusion.  This resource was not designed to directly develop adult educators’ science background, a need for many adult educators.  It does, however, answer another pressing concern:  helping adult learners prepare for high school equivalency tests.  The shift to student-centered strategies mirrors the most pressing concerns noted by groups, such as the GED Testing Service:  (1) pulling specific evidence from a written source to support a finding or conclusion; (2) expressing scientific information or findings in words; and (3) understand and apply scientific models, theories, and processes.

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