Marilyne Stains

Associate Professor
Associate Professor Profile Image

Department of Chemistry
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
649A Hamilton Hall
Lincoln, NE 68588-0304
(402) 472-3503


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

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

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 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.

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).

For more information, please visit the M. Stains Research Group Homepage

Selected Publications

Stains, M. and Vickrey, T. (2017) Fidelity of implementation: An overlooked yet critical construct to establish effectiveness of evidence-based instructional practices, CBE Life Sciences Education, 16(1), rm1 DOI: 10.1187/cbe.16-03-0113

Velasco, J. B., Knedeisen, A., Xue, D., Vickrey, T. L., Abebe, M., & Stains, M. (2016). Characterizing Instructional Practices in the Laboratory: The Laboratory Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM. Journal of Chemical Education, 93(7), 1191-1203 DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.6b00062

Lund, T.J. and Stains, M. (2015) The Importance of Context: An Exploration of Factors Influencing the Adoption of Student-Centered Teaching among Chemistry, Biology, and Physics Faculty, International Journal of STEM Education, 2:13 DOI: 10.1186/s40594-015-0026-8

Stains, M., Pilarz, M., and Chakraverty, D. (2015) Short and Long-Term Impacts of the Cottrell Scholars Collaborative New Faculty Workshop. Journal of Chemical Education, 92(9), 1466-1476 DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.5b00324

Lund, T.J., Pilarz, M., Velasco, J.B., Chakraverty, D., Rosploch, K., Undersander, M., and Stains, M. (2015) The Best of Both Worlds: Building on the COPUS and RTOP Observation Protocols to Easily and Reliably Measure Various Levels of Reformed Instructional Practices, CBE Life Sciences Education, 14(2), ar18 DOI: 10.1187/cbe.14-10-0168

Vickrey, T, Rosploch, K., Rahmanian, R., Pilarz, M. and Stains, M. Research-based implementation of Peer Instruction: A literature review, CBE Life Sciences Education, 14(1) DOI: 10.1187/cbe.14-11-0198