Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

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What’s the Eberly Center reading and thinking about this month?

The Research and Scholarship Digest, published the first Monday of each month, consists of short summaries of recently peer-reviewed studies on teaching and learning topics. This digest offers a view into what we are reading and thinking about at the Eberly Center that:

• adds to our understanding of how students learn
• is potentially generalizable across teaching contexts in higher education
• provokes reflection on implications for our teaching and educational development practices.

We hope the readers of this digest will find it a useful resource for staying in-tune with the rapidly expanding education research literature.

March 2019

STEM Faculty Who Believe Ability is Fixed Have Larger Racial Achievement Gaps and Inspire Less Student Motivation in Their Classes

STEM faculty at one university were surveyed (N=150) and completed a two-item mindset scale measuring perceptions of a growth vs. fixed mindset for their students (e.g., "students have a certain amount of intelligence and can't do much to change it"). Course grades for over 15,000 students were analyzed to examine whether there was a relationship between faculty mindset toward their students and course performance. Overall, a significant relationship was found, with students performing worse, on average, in courses taught by faculty reporting relatively low levels of growth (i.e., fixed) mindset. Underrepresented minority students (URM) showed especially low performance for low-growth mindset faculty, which exacerbated the overall STEM achievement gap for URM students.  In addition, student reports of motivation were lower in courses taught by faculty with relatively low growth mindsets towards their students.

Canning, E. A., Muenks, K., Green, D. J., & Murphy, M. C. (2019). Science Advances5(2), eaau4734.
[link to article]

Retrieval practice & Bloom’s taxonomy: Do students need fact knowledge before higher order learning?

Prior work argues that students need to achieve basic, lower level learning outcomes (e.g., factual knowledge) before moving on to pursue higher order learning outcomes (e.g., application and synthesis) successfully. In two laboratory experiments, the present research evaluates whether building a foundation of factual knowledge enhances students higher order learning. Results show that retrieval practice with lower level learning outcomes did not benefit higher order learning, and that higher order learning was best when students were given the opportunity to practice using higher order quizzes. These results suggest that in order for students to best achieve higher order learning outcomes, establishing a strong lower level foundation is not beneficial, and it may be best to spend more time practicing higher order skills instead. The authors discuss implications and theoretical rationale for their findings, which were also replicated in an authentic K-12 classroom setting. 

Agarwal, P. K. (2019).  Journal of Educational Psychology, 111(2), 189-209.
[link to article]

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