Predicting implementation of active learning by tenure-track teaching faculty using robust cluster analysis

Int J STEM Educ. 2022;9(1):49. doi: 10.1186/s40594-022-00365-9. Epub 2022 Jul 28.


Background: The University of California system has a novel tenure-track education-focused faculty position called Lecturer with Security of Employment (working titles: Teaching Professor or Professor of Teaching). We focus on the potential difference in implementation of active-learning strategies by faculty type, including tenure-track education-focused faculty, tenure-track research-focused faculty, and non-tenure-track lecturers. In addition, we consider other instructor characteristics (faculty rank, years of teaching, and gender) and classroom characteristics (campus, discipline, and class size). We use a robust clustering algorithm to determine the number of clusters, identify instructors using active learning, and to understand the instructor and classroom characteristics in relation to the adoption of active-learning strategies.

Results: We observed 125 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) undergraduate courses at three University of California campuses using the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM to examine active-learning strategies implemented in the classroom. Tenure-track education-focused faculty are more likely to teach with active-learning strategies compared to tenure-track research-focused faculty. Instructor and classroom characteristics that are also related to active learning include campus, discipline, and class size. The campus with initiatives and programs to support undergraduate STEM education is more likely to have instructors who adopt active-learning strategies. There is no difference in instructors in the Biological Sciences, Engineering, or Information and Computer Sciences disciplines who teach actively. However, instructors in the Physical Sciences are less likely to teach actively. Smaller class sizes also tend to have instructors who teach more actively.

Conclusions: The novel tenure-track education-focused faculty position within the University of California system represents a formal structure that results in higher adoption of active-learning strategies in undergraduate STEM education. Campus context and evolving expectations of the position (faculty rank) contribute to the symbols related to learning and teaching that correlate with differential implementation of active learning.

Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s40594-022-00365-9.

Keywords: Active learning; COPUS; Ensemble methods; Higher education; Lecturer with security of employment; Professor of Teaching; Robust clustering; STEM; Teaching Professor; Teaching focused faculty.