STEM for All (2016-2017)


Can active learning get more women and minorities to stay in STEM fields?

This project focuses on determining best practices for teaching introductory STEM courses, in order to increase the retention rates of women and minorities through improving the self-efficacy (confidence) of these under-represented groups.

It is motivated by the continued under-representation of women and minority students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors. Even among women and minority students who do 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. In particular, introductory STEM courses are viewed by many students as being alienating, competitive and focused on weeding out; personal connections are lacking. Despite this finding from almost twenty years ago, introductory STEM courses continue to be taught mainly through lectures, which tend to prevent personal connections in the classroom. At the same time, a student’s self-efficacy—the feeling that one can succeed in a task or major—is found to play an important role in the retention of under-represented groups. Preliminary findings suggest that the use of active-learning techniques in the classroom can foster students’ self-efficacy.

Project Description

This project team is expanding on research conducted by the Bass Connections STEM for All team in 2015-2016 by 1) analyzing the data collected in the first phase of the study; 2) considering specific types of active learning to figure out which are most effective; and 3) further developing theories regarding how race and ethnicity relate to active learning and self-efficacy. Overall, the goal of the project is to determine best practices for introductory STEM courses to increase retention of women and minorities through increasing the self-efficacy of these historically marginalized groups in STEM.

With the goals of the project in mind, this team asks the question, “Do active-learning techniques improve the self-efficacy levels of women and minorities in STEM courses, when compared to using lecture-based teaching?” In order to test this, team members developed experiments in which student participants attend either a lecture or an active-learning teaching session in a laboratory-based setting. Participants’ level of learning, as well as their self-efficacy, are measured pre- and post-session for each group. The team has completed six teaching sessions for the experiments, using clickers (classroom response systems) as the form of active learning.  The team is coding the data and will analyze the data to determine if active learning improves the self-efficacy of women and minorities relative to when lecturing is used.

Anticipated Outcomes

The team will produce a report that outlines best practices for introductory STEM courses to improve retention of women and minorities.


Summer 2016 – Spring 2017

See earlier related team, STEM for All (2015-2016).

Faculty/Staff Team Members

Mine Cetinkaya-Rundel, Trinity - Statistical Science*
Genna Miller, Trinity - Economics*

Graduate Team Members

Aarthi Sridhar, Pratt - Civil and Environmental Engineering

Undergraduate Team Members

Brigid Burroughs, Psychology (AB)
Young Hoo (Andy) Cho, Mathematics (AB), French Studies (AB2)
Amanda Levenberg, Statistical Science (BS)
Jennifer Ling
Katharyn Loweth, Int Comparative Studies (AB)

* denotes team leader