Marilyne Stains

Assistant Professor

Educational Background
Postdoctoral, University of Massachusetts Boston
Ph.D. University of Arizona
M.S. Université Paul Sabatier, France
B.S. Université des Sciences de Luminy, France

Research Interests
Chemical Education, Diffusion of evidence-based teaching methods, learning outcomes and processes in tutoring and research environments

Stains Research Group
Current Research | Publications | Prospective Students

Marilyne Stains
Hamilton Hall 649A
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Current Research
As it was stated in How People Learn?, understanding the acquisition of expertise in science is crucial “not because all school children are expected to become experts [in science], but because the study of expertise shows what the results of successful learning look like” (p.31). In academia, people develop their scientific knowledge through formal (i.e., lectures, teaching laboratories) and informal (e.g., research laboratories, teaching/tutoring) learning experiences. The core of our research efforts is focused on understanding how scientific knowledge develops during these experiences, and developing programs and strategies that will enhance effective learning in these settings.

Research Project 1: Evaluation of the Impact of Science Education Research on Instructional Practices in Higher Education
Picture2.gifAfter decades of science education reform efforts, few studies have explored the extent of the impact of science education research on the mainstream science classrooms in higher education. The training of most of the next generation of scientists, engineers, doctors, science teachers, and the level of science literacy of future citizens rest on the instruction they receive in these classrooms. Moreover, research-based instructional practices in science have been shown to change students’ attitude toward the field and can thus potentially attract more students in the sciences. It is thus important to characterize and understand the state of instructional practices in these environments and identify and develop strategies to improve it. This research project investigates the extent to which instructional practices developed and validated by science education researchers (e.g., collaborative learning, guided-inquiry) have infused the mainstream introductory science courses in higher education.

Research Project 2: Characterization of the Development of Scientific Knowledge during Informal Learning Experiences
In the last decades, increased focus has been put on informal settings within college environments that promote the development of scientific knowledge and skills. Agencies are funding an increasing number of programs aiming at attracting and retaining students in the sciences and creating a scientifically literate population (e.g., research experience for undergraduate). However, little work has been done to understand the impact of these informal programs on students’ conceptual understanding.

Picture3.gifThe results of Dr. Stains thesis work alluded to the potentially large impact of informal learning experiences on students’ development of expertise in chemistry. In our studies, we found that chemistry graduate students highly outperformed senior chemistry undergraduate students. We also noticed that while on average undergraduate students performed poorly, a few demonstrated expert levels of thinking. It became clear that schoolwork alone could not explain these large differences. Through informal discussions with participants in our studies, we learned that most expert students had or were engaged in extra-curricular activities such as working in a research laboratory, tutoring, or teaching.

The idea that informal learning experiences largely contribute to students’ conceptual development is supported by expertise theories from Ericsson on deliberate practice and Brown, Collins, and Newman on cognitive apprenticeship. Both theories argue that expertise is acquired through involvement in authentic contexts. Using these theories as our theoretical framework, we are characterizing the process by which conceptual development occurs during informal learning experiences (e.g., research and teaching) by exploring the role on learning of mentors and activities that engage the learner individually (e.g., setting-up an experiment or developing an assessment).

Research Project 3: Exploration of the Impact of Science Experts’ Limited Metacognitive Skills on their Ability to Teach Students   
A large body of research in cognitive psychology and science education has been devoted to characterizing experts’ knowledge construction and reasoning strategies.

Picture4.gifThis work has been essential in understanding how learning occurs and in developing effective instructional strategies. However, few studies have investigated the influence of experts’ knowledge structure and reasoning strategies on experts’ effectiveness in teaching novices. Decades of students’ comments about their science courses suggest that expertise does not always translate into good teaching!

Novices’ understanding of content and ability to solve problems depend to a great extent on experts’ clear identification and explanations of clues and thinking processes they use when dealing with concepts and problems. The effectiveness of the instruction thus depends on experts’ metacognitive skills. Research suggests that experts have internalized and automated much of their strategies in problem solving and knowledge recollection. This automatization makes it difficult for them to be fully aware of their own thinking. For example, research in cognitive psychology shows that experts’ self-report of their problem solving strategies are often incomplete or inaccurate. Our research group contributes to this line of work by exploring the consequences of experts’ limited metacognitive skills on novices’ learning in the context of formal learning experiences.

Selected Publications

Stains, M., Escriu-Sune, M., Molina Alvarez, M. L., and Sevian, H. (2011). Assessing Secondary and College Students’ Understanding of the Particulate Nature of Matter: Development and Validation of the Structure and Motion of Matter (SAMM) Survey. Journal of Chemical Education, 88(10), 1359–1365 DOI: 10.1021/ed1002509

White, B., Stains, M., Escriu-Sune, M., Medaglia, E., Rostamnjad, L., Chinn, C., & Sevian, H. (2011). A Novel Instrument for Assessing Students’ Critical Thinking Abilities. Journal of College Science Teaching, 40(5), 102-107

Stains, M. & Talanquer, V. (2008). Classification of Chemical Reaction: Stages of Expertise. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 45(7), 771-793. DOI: 10.1002/tea.20221

Stains, M. & Talanquer, V. (2007). Classification of Chemical Substances Using Particulate Representations of Matter: An Analysis of Student Thinking. International Journal of Science Education, 29(5), 643-661; Erratum 29(7), 935 (2007).DOI: 10.1080/09500690600931129

Stains, M. & Talanquer, V. (2007). A2, Element or Compound? Journal of Chemical Education84(5), 880-883. DOI: 10.1021/ed084p880

Complete list of publications