Transforming classrooms into active learning environments to improve comprehension & graduation rate

Michael Gyamerah
Prairie View A & M University

The 2012 President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) reported that less than 40% of US students who enter university show an interest in STEM disciplines. To meet the future projected workforce in the STEM fields, a 33% increase in the number of STEM bachelor’s degrees completed per year (compared to the 2012 annual total) would be required. Further, increasing the STEM retention rate from 40% to 50% would meet three-quarters of the additional one million STEM majors needed. The PCAST report also showed that only 20% of STEM-interested underrepresented minority students finish with a STEM degree. Consequently, there is a need for teaching strategies based on Formatively Assessed Student Centered Instruction and Active Learning (FASCIAL) which applies Discipline Based Educational Research (DBER) empirically validated teaching practices.

We are conducting research in three areas aimed at achieving our objectives of using the FASCIAL strategy to improve student conceptual understanding and hence increase retention and graduation rates. The hypotheses of this research are that: (1) Transitioning instruction from traditional lecture mode to FASCIAL strategy mode will lead to better comprehension by students and thus increase retention and graduation rates. (2) The ability of lead instructors to select and design effective learning tasks that are based on FASCIAL strategy is critical for increasing comprehension, retention and graduation rates. (3) Systematic training of the faculty and teaching assistants to be proficient in the proposed FASCIAL strategy for engaging students in productive group learning will be critical in increasing retention and graduation rates.

The research involves a systematic approach and initial implementation of a strategy aimed at (1) improving student conceptual understanding, (2) increasing retention rate and (3) increasing the 6 year graduation rate from the current 30% to a level closer to the national average of 59 % for students in the College of Engineering at Prairie View A & M University, a HBCU

The research broader impacts are: (i) the FASCIAL strategy implemented will lead to widespread implementation of DBER practices for improving teaching and learning in engineering programs at PVAMU, and other institutions that adopt this strategy, (ii) produce future cadre of faculty for STEM education through training and involvement of graduate and undergraduate student assistants knowledgeable in the FASCIAL teaching strategy, (iii) decrease the economic burden of student loans by reducing the years to graduate, enabling them to contribute early to the economy, (iv) decrease the attrition rate, increase retention and graduation rates of students in STEM disciplines to help meet the demand for current and future technological workforce, (v) provide students at PVAMU access to quality and state-of-the-art evidence-based collaborative mode of instruction and thus give them collaborative skills and ability to work in teams required in industry, and (vi) the mechanical and chemical engineering programs at PVAMU each produce 40-50/year of engineering graduates. Ranking among the top producers of graduate engineers in the country ensures PVAMU as the 3rd largest producer of minority engineers, with the resulting increase in minority participation in the engineering labor force.


Paul Biney, Prairie View A & M University, Prairie View, TX; Judy Perkins, Prairie View A & M University, Prairie View, TX; Justin Foreman, Prairie View A & M University, Prairie View, TX; Fred Bonner, Prairie View A & M University, Prairie View, TX; Sarhan Musa, Prairie View A & M University, Prairie View, TX; Lealon Martin, Prairie View A & M University, Prairie View, TX; Jaejong Park, Prairie View A & M University, Prairie View, TX; Abdul Choudhury, Prairie View A & M University, Prairie View, TX