University of Nebraska-Lincoln
649A Hamilton Hall
Lincoln, NE 68588-0304
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
After 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 educationResearch 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.
The 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).
(5) Vickrey, T, Rosploch, K., Rahmanian, R., Pilarz, M. and Stains, M. Research-based implementation of Peer Instruction: A literature review, CBE Life Sciences Education, Accepted
(4) Baker, L.A., Chakraverty, D., Columbus, L., Feig, A.L., Jenks, W.J., Pilarz, M., Stains, M., Waterman, R. and Wesemann, J.L. (2014) Cottrell Scholars Collaborative New Faculty Workshop: Professional Development for New Chemistry Faculty, Journal of Chemical Education, 91(11), 1874-1881 DOI: 10.1021/ed500547n
(3) DeChenne, S.E., Carew, J., and Stains, M. (2014) Published freshman laboratory exercises as indicators of awareness and adoption of instructional practices grounded in discipline-based education research, Journal of College Science Teaching, 43(6), 89-99; access it here
* This article was featured in the Editor's Choice section of Science (August 1st, 2014 issue)
(2) Griep, M., Stains, M., Malina, V., and Velasco, J. (2013) Renovating Four General Chemistry Laboratory Rooms at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In L. O'Connell (Ed.) Innovations and Renovations: Designing the Teaching Laboratory. Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society. DOI: 10.1021/bk-2013-1146
(1) Chase, A., Pakhira, D., and Stains, M.* (2013). Implementing Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning for the First Time: Adaptations and Short-term Impacts on Students' Attitude and Performance, Journal of Chemical Education, 90(4), 409-416 DOI: 10.1021/ed300181t
* Listed as one of the top 20 most downloaded articles for the month of April 2013