Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Eberly Center for 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 2021

Gouvea, J. S. (2020). Antiracism and the problems with "achievement gaps" in STEM education

Measuring and defining "achievement gaps" in STEM teaching often promotes a comparison that holds white students as the norm or as the ideal learners. The authors have identified that this, itself, is a problematic practice that promotes racist ideas and standards. This review article examines "a small collection of recent work [that may] stimulate critical reflection on what we [biological science instructors] mean by “achievement” in STEM, how we can understand the causes of “gaps,” and what we might consider to be productive steps toward racial equity and justice."

Gouvea, J. S. (2020). CBE-Life Sciences Education, 20(1).
[link to article]

Syllabus tone, more than mental health statements, influence intentions to seek help

With the rise of mental illness cases on college campuses, providing and encouraging the use of resources for students using course syllabi is an important practice. The authors of the present research examined the effects of two syllabus variables on the likelihood that students would reach out to the instructor for help if needed. In a 2x2 lab experiment, syllabi were manipulated to have the presence or absence of a special statement addressing mental health, and had either a warm tone or a cold tone. Participants read one of the four types of syllabi and then rated their intentions to reach out for several different kinds of help if needed. Controlling for attitudes toward seeking psychological help, results showed that, overall, both having a statement addressing mental health and having a warm tone can influence student intentions to reach out to the instructor for help, although the effects of the warm tone appeared to carry influence in several types of situations whereas the presence of the mental health statement affected only one. These results suggest that having a warm tone in your syllabus may encourage students to reach out to instructors for help in more types of situations than simply including a statement about mental health.

Gurung, R. A., & Galardi, N. R. (2021). Teaching of Psychology, DOI:0098628321994632
[link to article]

Play like a team in teams: A typology of online cognitive-social learning engagement

The majority of prior research in online learning and student engagement has focused on cognitive, quantitative aspects of online interaction, e.g., number and length of forum contributions. The authors propose that the analysis of online learning environments should include a social lens. They performed a qualitative assessment of over 3,500 discussion posts from 181 students in an online course, in which they reviewed the number of posts made by each student, as well as the length, depth, and conversational sophistication of each post. They also considered the interactive properties of the posts, e.g., turn-taking and concept building. They produced a matrix of participatory categories using team-based language borrowed from the sports world. Bench-sitters post infrequently, using low complexity writing or reactions. Hustlers post or respond frequently, but also with low complexity writing. Strikers post infrequently, but write with high complexity and in collaboration with peers. Champions write frequent, high-complexity posts that also play to the community. By considering the social aspects of engagement, the authors created a framework that expands how online designers may understand their learners, and be able to build activities that are more reflective of the given population of learners. Building assignments this way may help reach students who struggle with engagement.

Prestridge, S., & Cox, D. (2021). Active Learning in Higher Education, 1–18.
[link to article]

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