STEM educational outcomes and the transition to online education under COVID-19 (2020)

The CST is engaged in research alongside colleagues at Princeton to understand STEM faculty's shift to online course delivery, identifying facilitators and barriers towards adapting research-based STEM pedagogy to this new environment, and potential impacts of these factors on equitable engagement. Through interviewing faculty and students in three STEM departments on campus -- Physics, Computer Science, and Civil and Environmental Engineering, this project seeks to contribute to what is known about the challenges of moving to online undergraduate STEM teaching and learning in the moment of this unusual transition, and how it impacts student success in subsequent semesters. The immediate findings of this research will provide faculty, administrators, and course developers with insights into the gaps that may exist in students' learning trajectories stemming from the rapid shift to online course delivery, with special focus on the implications for underserved groups in STEM, and identify meaningful supports and resources to remedy those gaps. Longer-term outcomes gleaned from understanding which pedagogical strategies are or aren't adopted by STEM faculty as they move to online teaching, and assessing the success of those strategies, will contribute meaningfully to the scant research base on quality online STEM education at the college level.  For more information, contact CST Executive Director, Sami Kahn. 


Special needs and talents in science learning (2020)

People with disabilities are underrepresented in STEM fields, in part due to a lack of implementation of quality accommodations and research-based pedagogy in STEM at the K-16 levels.  Similarly, evidence exists that students identified as gifted in STEM often fail to receive educative opportunities that adequately match their abilities. The CST is engaged in a literature review to understand the state of the field in inclusive STEM education for exceptional students (those with special needs and talents) in order to support researchers in STEM education and STEM teacher education.  CST staff and an undergraduate research team are engaged in this literature review, from which findings will be reported in the Handbook of Research on Science Education and the Handbook of Research on Science Teacher Education, among other publications. For more information, contact CST Executive Director, Sami Kahn. 


Evaluation of new EGR course sequence at Princeton's School of Engineering & Applied Science (2017-2019)

In the fall of 2017, Princeton University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science introduced a new sequence of five courses for incoming students. The sequence was designed to address the high attrition rates in engineering, particularly among underrepresented groups, by engaging incoming engineering majors with subject matter and important problems in their field from the beginning of their Princeton career.  The CST conducted an evaluation of the new sequence to understand students’ experiences with the new series of engineering courses, and to examine the extent to which the courses impacted students’ cognition, affect, and their sense of identity and belonging to the engineering community. Utilizing a combination of focus groups, classroom observations, surveys, and course assessments, we found that students in the new sequence reported increased confidence, skills, and conceptual knowledge during their first and second year as engineering majors, they believed that they would be able to persist in their engineering majors in spite of new challenges as they entered the required course sequences for their majors, and those beliefs translated into significantly lower rates of transfer out of the engineering program during the first three semesters of the major.


Freshmen Scholars Institute 

The Princeton University Freshmen Scholars Institute (FSI) aims to engage a highly motivated community of incoming freshmen in rigorous coursework and meaningful social and professional development. As evidenced by the existing research literature, summer bridge programs, like the FSI increase retention and graduation rates, and improve students’ self-efficacy and social capital. Many of the existing studies primarily use quantitative data to draw conclusions. The voices of the summer bridge participants, who are often first-generation, low-income students, are missing from the literature. To begin to fill these gaps in the literature, CST is conducting a research study on the FSI. The guiding research question is: As described by the students, what is the lived experience and longitudinal impact of the FSI? In particular, we are interested in describing the FSI through the students’ voices, with a focus on the quantitative reasoning (QR) course and new science and engineering (STL) courses for STEM majors. We are also interested in gaining the students’ perspective on the longitudinal impact of the FSI on their persistence in a STEM major, on their overall scientific literacy, and on their overall satisfaction with the undergraduate experience at Princeton University.


CEE 262 Structures and the Urban Environment

Students in this course are exposed to fundamental ideas in civil and structural engineering through the great works of pioneering engineers. A central message of this course is that engineering is a creative discipline that allows for creative and aesthetic explorations within constraints. CEE 262 is open to all majors and is offered every spring semester. The course enrolls approximately 150 students each spring semester. The Council developed and implemented a mixed-methods study to evaluate the impact of the course on students’ cognition and affect. Preliminary findings from the study revealed: 89% of students experienced moderate to great gain in interest in engineering; 85% reported moderate to great gain in recognizing engineering as a creative profession; 83% indicated moderate to great gain in understanding how engineering helps people address real world issues; and, on average, 78% of students reported a moderate to great gain in their STEM abilities. Evaluation of the course will be on-going and aligned with the recently awarded National Science Foundation (see Synergistic Activities section).

Physics 103/104 General Physics

In an effort to enhance the traditional calculus-based introductory physics course, a teaching experiment was undertaken in Physics 103/104 during the 2013-2014 academic year. Specifically, Dr. Katerina Visnjic utilized the Investigative Science Learning Environment (ISLE) curriculum in her labs, while the other sections maintained the labs and pedagogy of previous years. The two key features of the ISLE curriculum include involving students in the development of their own ideas and encouraging students to represent physical process in multiple ways, thus helping them develop productive representations for qualitative reasoning and for problem solving. The Council was invited to explore the cognitive and affective gains for students in Dr. Visnjic’s lab. As such, the Council developed and implemented a pilot study during the 2013-2014 academic year. The results of that pilot informed the development and implementation of the 2014-2015 study. The questions guiding the CST study were: As described by the students, what were the PHY 103/104 course goals? How do students describe the ISLE and traditional labs? To what extent did students relate the physics concepts and procedural skills acquired in PHY 103/104 to their everyday lives? Preliminary findings from the pilot study were presented at the American Association of Physics Teachers 2015 Summer Meeting.