STEM for All (2016-2017)

Can active learning get more women and minorities to stay in science, technology, engineering and math fields?

This Bass Connections project was motivated by the continued under-representation of women and minority students in STEM majors. Even among women and minority students who enter college intending to major in STEM, there is a relatively high attrition rate after introductory courses.

The way in which introductory STEM courses are taught has been identified as one contributing factor to the low retention rates of women and minority students. Introductory STEM courses are viewed by many students as being alienating, competitive and focused on weeding out. They are taught mainly through lectures, which tend to prevent personal connections in the classroom. Preliminary findings suggest that the use of active-learning techniques in the classroom can foster students’ self-efficacy—the feeling that one can succeed in a task or major—which in turn has been found to play an important role in the retention of under-represented groups.

This project team expanded on research conducted by a previous team by analyzing the data collected in the first phase of the study, considering specific types of active learning to figure out which are most effective and further developing theories regarding how active learning impacts self-efficacy. Each student team member summarized relevant literature in a specific area and peer-taught one another. The team designed and implemented laboratory experiments that simulate classroom conditions. After receiving IRB approval, team members recruiting participants and conducted the experiments in February 2017.

This project team investigated whether one active-learning technique, clicker usage (classroom response systems), can improves the self-efficacy levels of women and minorities in STEM courses, compared to lecture-based teaching. Clicker usage is associated more with peer/group experiences, as the entire class sees the anonymous answers of the group at large. Team members developed experiments in which student participants attend either a lecture or an active-learning teaching session with clickers in a laboratory-based setting. Participants’ level of learning, as well as their self-efficacy, were measured pre- and post-session for each group. Groups were also stratified by gender.

Team members also worked together to consider how other, non-group-based active-learning methods may affect students’ self-efficacy.  These methods could include diary and journal writing that is not read by classmates and individually-constructed projects that will not be viewed by classmates.

Team representatives will present findings at the 2017 Transforming STEM Higher Education conference in San Francisco.


Summer 2016 – Spring 2017

Team Outcomes

Abstract accepted, 2017 Transforming STEM Higher Education: Discovery, Innovation, and the Value of Evidence (November 2-4, 2017, San Francisco)

STEM for All: Focusing on Retention and Active Learning Pedagogies (best poster at EHDx, Education & Human Development theme)

STEM for All (presentation by Aarthi Sridhar, Kathryn Loweth and Brigid Burroughs, EHDx Talks, April 19, 2017)

Poster presentation and activity at OurDuke Day (April 12, 2017)


STEM for All


Katharyn Loweth

This Team in the News

Students Present Their Research and Learn from Each Other at the Bass Connections Showcase

From Durham to Brazil, Students Share Research Stories

This project team was originally part of the Education & Human Development theme of Bass Connections, which ended in 2022. See related teams, STEM for All (2017-2018) and STEM for All (2015-2016).

Team Leaders

  • Mine Cetinkaya-Rundel, Arts & Sciences-Statistical Science
  • Genna Miller, Arts & Sciences-Economics

/graduate Team Members

  • Aarthi Sridhar, Civil & Environmental Engg-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Brigid Burroughs, Psychology (AB)
  • Young Hoo (Andy) Cho, Statistical Science (BS)
  • Amanda Levenberg, Statistical Science (BS)
  • Jennifer Ling, Evolutionary Anthropology (BS)
  • Katharyn Loweth, Int Comparative Studies (AB)