The STEAM-Active (Project Number: 2021-1-ES01-KA220-HED-000032107) project is funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.

Initial implementation of active learning strategies in large, lecture STEM courses: Lessons learned from a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary STEM faculty development program

Partners' Institution
Kaunas University of Technology
Year of publication
Educational stage
University Level
Journal name
International Journal of STEM Education
Thematic Area
STEAM intervention (teaching strategies, evaluation...)
The paper presents the results of formal faculty development program for student-centered teaching and learning in STEM applied in three institutions (one comprehensive university and two community colleges). The data collected during surveys, case studies and video of everyday instructional practice is discussed in the paper. The main research questions considered in this paper where as follows (1) what changes did faculty make to their classroom instruction and learning environments to improve students’ understanding of core ideas for their course? (2) what supported or constrained the changes faculty attempted to make to their instruction? (3) how did instructors’ implementation of student-centered practices align with students’ perceptions? The authors state that active learning environment mostly consisted of answering open and multiple-choice questions. It also included using tools and tutorials to encourage developing ideas and make group discussions more engaging. Despite the support of the departments, several constraints to implement active learning were identified, namely, students’ resistance, time constraints, lack of collaboration in developing new material, classroom layout unfit for group work and similar. The analysis of questionnaires showed that students value the material that helps them prepare for the assignments most, that is lecture and homework.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
An important issue is raised in the paper that lecturers in institutions of university or college level do not require knowledge in pedagogical background. Thus, they usually “learn by doing” with a limited knowledge in pedagogical methods, especially in their early teaching years. However, professional knowledge is crucial if modern teaching approaches, such as student-centered teaching, are used in the educational process. Therefore, the faculty development program in three institutions enabled to share the experience and facilitate adoption of student-centered practices in STEM courses and improve teaching and learning STEM in participated institutions.
The suggested learning model connects to learning theory of constructivism which is based on the idea that students build their understanding by using active learning strategies. This enabled the participants (lecturers) to choose the pedagogical strategies that are most suitable for their subject, context, and students. Faculty members from biology, chemistry, environmental science, geology, computer science, engineering, math, physics, and astronomy participated in the program. Various activities, such as asking and answering questions, group work, discussion, and others ensure active engagement in study subject. Such practice requires teachers’ experience and knowledge how to deal with intense learning process, handle with students’ resistance, and various outcomes. For example, the authors identified cases where the lecture moves on and leaves students with unanswered question. Thus, the quality of the activity implementation was evaluated based on six criteria: importance of science content, room to generate new ideas, opportunities to engage with examples / phenomena, using evidence to make claims, chances for sensemaking, classroom culture. Inclusive teaching is a part of the student-centered approach. Lecturers examine their own identities and explore students’ identities and experience. This helps to apply inclusive pedagogical strategies, such as structured, small group discussions, formative assessment, setting classroom norms, etc. Thus, these strategies are crucial in creating an inclusive learning environment for all students, including the underrepresented ones, namely, women, African America, Native American, and others.
The authors emphasize that teachers need to be transparent to students about the learning strategies and the aim of using them. Moreover, the effective application of student-centered strategies depends on teachers’ practice and transfer from conventional passive learning strategies to active student-centered strategies is a slow process and needs to be guided by institutionalized, sustained faculty development.
Point of Strength
The authors use their research to generate themes that might be important to consider in constructing faculty development programs and provide recommendations on how to deal with them. The themes include variety of pedagogy implementation, adopting realistic expectation for faculty change due to lag between theory and practice, robustness in highly vs. moderately ranked barriers, student vs. faculty expectations.
Active learning, Faculty, STEM education, Professional development, Pedagogy
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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