Occasional Paper I: What Works: A Research-Rich Environment

A Focus on Students

Issues Raised:

Reformed curricula should be lean, lab-rich, and focused on showing the connections between disciplines.

The science curriculum should not be a look-step, fact-filled sequence of courses focused on preparing students for GRE requirements.

National and institutional data about why students stay and succeed in science and mathematics should be gathered and shared.

Reform must begin by re-examining institutional priorities and reallocating resources before requests for external support can succeed.

Understanding more clearly what works will help determine what changes can be made without additional funding, and the nature and level of internal and external support needed to accomplish major reform.

To be successful, reforms need support from administrators "with clout," as well as from a critical mass of committed faculty.

Because of their history, mission, and flexibility of action, many liberal arts colleges provide models of how to develop a research-rich environment.

Those who say "it cannot be done" with large classes are being proven wrong by successful efforts to introduce active learning at some major research universities.

 

Recommendations:

Recognizing that today's students learn best when they are "doing" science as active participants in a research-rich, collaborative environment for learning, we recommend:

  • Institutions, to improve the quality of education and increase retention, examine their introductory courses in science and mathematics and develop a strategic plan to ensure that such courses introduce students to the ways of doing science, with persistent opportunities for hands-on, active, personal engagement with the context, content, and process of science.
  • Institutions and funding agencies provide regular and appropriate local opportunities for upper level students to be involved in collaborative research with their peers and their faculty on their own campus.
  • Institutions and funding agencies encourage and support greater risk-taking in the development of curricular programs and materials designed to provide a research-rich environment for all students, and that successful reform efforts on other campuses be explored as models for such curricular reforms.
  • Institutions evaluate more systematically the impact of reforms on the education of individual students and on the campus community.